Global problems such as climate change cannot be tackled solely at an individual level. For meaningful change to occur, nations need to coordinate their efforts. Andrew Izzo Clarke takes a look at game theory to suggest a SIMPOL solution.
Imagine you’re out on a hunt with your friends. You are all starving and need to find something to eat soon. You can either try to catch a hare, which doesn’t require the help of your friends at all, and get a little bit of meat. Or you can go after a stag, which requires the cooperation of your friends, and get a lot more meat. Here’s the rub: you have to make your decision without the knowledge of what your friends are going to decide. Obviously this means that your friends have the exact same limitation.
What would you do in this situation?
A Glaring Omission
If we’re focused on our own problems, we might be tempted to hunt the hare. Yet if we want to ensure the greatest good for the greatest number of people, then collaborating and hunting the stag is the better option.
This leads us to what is known as the Collective Action Problem, a situation in which all individuals would be better off cooperating but fail to do so because of conflicting interests between individuals that discourage joint action. It is at the heart of humanity’s battle against climate change.
The Individual vs. the Collective
To reduce emissions, the biggest business polluters, the transnational corporations, need to be taxed and regulated. However, if a corporation is taxed by the country it is based in, this won’t be sufficient to stop it from continuing its business in a country with less stringent regulations.
As there’s no all mighty Leviathan to keep this parasitic behaviour in check, countries compete for the employment and short-term economic benefits that these businesses offer them, while downplaying global, ecological destruction.
Individuals have a vested interest in acting selfishly for financial gain as opposed to risking losing out if they were to act differently. They follow local beneficial incentives whilst looking away from damage done to the whole.
Simply put, tackling climate change is the stag which necessitates global cooperation. If one person goes after the stag, they’ll simply fail to catch it. No country is willing to be the first to tax multinational corporations at responsible rates, since going first will mean fewer jobs, a depressed economy, and bad times for all.
The only way to solve this problem is if countries were to act simultaneously.
The SIMPOL Solution
SIMultaneous POLicy (SIMPOL) aims to tackle this particular problem (a problem that, alarmingly, isn’t being raised in many places) by galvanising citizens to support this change. It places the citizen at the centre of this change by allowing them to choose a political candidate that recognises this problem and acts in accordance with the greatest good.
To be clear, SIMPOL is not a political party. It’s a pledge and a process for bringing about global cooperation in order to deal with global problems. Anyone can sign up, from any party, from anywhere in the world, while retaining the membership of whichever party they happen to be associated with at the moment.
When a politician recognizes this fundamental issue, they can choose to provisionally sign up for SIMPOL, meaning that they support the process for bringing about global simultaneous cooperation in principle at some as-yet-undecided future date. Remember, the whole point is to get governments to act simultaneously on the global level so that they don’t lose out individually to transnational corporations, but this has to start from a slow, bottom-up process.
Citizens, on the other hand, who also recognize the fundamental issue, can choose to endorse those political candidates that have taken the SIMPOL pledge because they are the ones who have shown themselves to support a practical solution to global issues that go beyond petty party politics. Indeed, this solution can be a practical method of leveraging parties against one another for the benefit of everyone; once people realise the benefits — and necessity — of global cooperation, they’ll want a piece of the pie. As citizens, we can further encourage other politicians to sign on to take the pledge, which will create a domino-effect as others will similarly take heed. Politicians who fail to join SIMPOL risk losing votes to those who support it.
There are three criteria that define a Simultaneous Policy:
- It must be implemented simultaneously across the globe to stop any individual nation from losing out to destructive global competition.
- It must follow the principle of subsidiarity, meaning that if a policy can be decided unilaterally by a single nation, there’s no need for its implementation in SIMPOL.
- It must tackle related issues together, to avoid having some nations win out at the expense of others. For example: a global carbon tax will discourage the countries who are directly affected from negotiating tax rates. Combined issues here could include tax on profits, employment incentives, and government infrastructural support.
As SIMPOL’s democratic process is decided by the people, once a sufficiently large enough percentage of the world has signed on, then policy committees (which are open for anyone to join) will decide on the actual implementation of policies. A date in the future is agreed upon, and the policy will be implemented worldwide.
Ultimately, SIMPOL is based on a very simple premise: working together pays more than working alone. Worker’s Unions employ the exact same logic. There’s strength in numbers, but only if you wake up to recognize this fact can words truly manifest into actions.
As a concept, this simple idea can be used to tackle any collective action problem. If a group of competing individuals realise they would achieve more by joining interests and fighting for a common cause, then a SIMPOL-like solution can help impel them towards an emergent level of organisation that will ultimately be to everyone’s advantage.
It’s no easy task, and it is certainly not flawless. However, this idea presents us with the possibility of working around the perpetual collective action problems that we encounter in our daily lives and shows us how it’s possible to overcome them. Will it definitely work? Not necessarily. But seeing the issues we face in our world today, it is worth trying. One thing is certain, if we want to tackle a global problem such as climate change, we need to stop hunting hares and focus on hunting the stag together.