Zero-Benefit Games

“In game theory and economic theory, a zero–sum game is a mathematical representation of a situation in which a participant’s gain (or loss) of utility is exactly balanced by the losses (or gains) of the utility of the other participant(s)” ~ from Wikipedia’s entry on ‘Zero-Sum Games’

Here’s a look at any newspaper over the period of a week:

1. Politician from Party A gets embroiled in a scam; Party A calls it vendetta; Party B labels it corruption, touts its ‘honest’ credentials, and says Party A is harming the nation

2. Politician from Party B gets involved in a new scam; Party B calls it vendetta; Party A yells ‘corruption’, touts its ‘honest’ credentials, and says Party B is harming the nation

3. Party A and Party B fling mud at each other, describing each other as corrupt, while denying that any hints of wrongdoing can be traced back to their members

4. Party A’s spokesman lashes out at the leader of Party B; the latter returns the favour

5. The mudslinging continues till a new scam in uncovered; everything’s forgotten and it’s back to square one

That’s what Indian news can be distilled down to in its purest form. Unfortunately, what seems to be happening is that there’s no space left for dialogue, or for a political party to admit being in the wrong. Go back a week, a month, a year, or even a decade, and what’s depressingly evident is how political parties from all sides of the spectrum seem to keep on insisting they’re pure as the driven snow.

The recent Parliament logjam was an example of how zero-sum games are harming our nation. For months, barely any work was conducted in the ‘temple’ of the world’s biggest democracy and all because neither the opposition parties nor the ruling coalition were willing to admit that they could have been wrong.

Now, think of what would happen if an individual behaved like this in his personal or professional life – he’d be referred to a psychologist who’d have a field day with all diagnoses that could be applied. Sadly, while this seems tragically funny at one level, it’s crippling our nation. Is it really true that the opposition is always right, or conversely, that the ruling coalition can’t ever make a misstep?

For our economy to return to a path of high growth, for the dismal state of millions of our less-than-fortunate brethren to be improved, this has to stop. Scoring political points is all right, but when that’s affecting the lives of hundreds of millions, it’s beyond a joke. Politics might be a game – or rather, a business – for the ‘professionals’ in Parliament and in the state assemblies, but the only loser is the nation.

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