Thursday, November 19, 2015

Klingon Bastards

On Twitter:
That last tweet of mine there (I'm Spivonomist) demands a little explanation.

In case you aren't a Trek fan, the Kobayashi Maru is a computer simulation given to last-year Starfleet officer candidates. With the original programming, it is an unwinnable scenario. Your ship receives a distress call from an allied vessel. If you choose to respond, you are quickly ambushed and destroyed. If you ignore the call, your ally is annihilated. There is no classic Pareto-enhancing victory strategy.

Except to cheat.

That's what Kirk did: cheated. Both in the original Roddenberry film and in the Abrams reboot, James Tiberius Kirk surreptitiously rewrote the code for the simulation and emerged victorious over the Klingon (presumably Romulan after the Khitomer Accords were signed) foes. In the Abrams reboot, I think the screenplay suggested that the cheating itself was part of the test. Or if not, by the time Picard's crew was tooling around, it surely would be.

If this test is as meta as I hope, it checks for lateral thinking and a willingness to bend the rules. In 1982, when Wrath of Khan introduced the test, Kirk's cheating came across as sincere cheating. In 2009, the cheating seemed part of the game. If the metaphor was meant to extend to the nexus of politics and financial markets, Jones is right on the money. Even Hollywood sees that the Commanding Heights are big-time cheaters, and so long as the consequences are still beneficial, the audience should be okay with it.

I think Roddenberry [ed. Adam Gurri reminds me that it was Nick Meier, not Gene Roddenberry who wrote and directed Wrath of Khan. Thank you, Adam. ed. add.: via GJ Jack Sowards coined the term Kobaysahi Maru after his neighbors] would have been appalled. There's a certain type for whom the rules are sacrosanct. Cheat not lest ye be cheated. Tinkering with the architecture of big-time institutions is risky on scales I think even pretty well educated people probably don't comprehend very well. And our political and commercial elites have been tinkering for many decades, with no plan to stop. If Jones is right, and I see no good reason to dispute his point, the real trick is to make sure any further tinkering is done with the grave lessons of good public choice economics in mind.

And like I tweeted, this is a very good trick if you can pull it off.

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?