Desperate times bring desperate measures

Update: Edwardo Porter makes the same point, only he does a much better job of it.

A bit off topic, but the impending government shutdown has me thinking in simple game theoretic terms.

Some on the left (and right) seem to think that Congressional actions are "crazy" as government shutdown is likely to hurt the Republican party.  After all, that's what happened the last time when Newt Gingrich shut down the government in 1995, which led to his demise and helped Clinton win reelection against Dole in 1996.

It's probably fair to guess that, while this time is different (isn't every time, at least a little?), the shutdown will likely hurt the Republican party.  So why are they doing it?  Are they really crazy?  Has the radical fringe taken over and leading us over the cliff to disaster?

Well maybe. But maybe their actions, even if potentially disastrous, are rational and not surprising given the circumstances.  It seems to me the Republican party is in a desperate situation, and desperate times rationally bring about desperate actions. It's possible, though probably unlikely, that Obama and the Democrats will cave and give Republicans something in exchange, like partial repeal of the health care law, for not blowing up the economy.  It also seems possible, though unlikely, that shutdown and/or default will hurt Democrats as much or more than Republicans.  Even if these are unlikely propositions, they have more than zero probability.

The alternative is that Republicans do nothing and let Obamacare be implemented, the economy continues to recover, and the nation's demographics steadily change, all of which basically ensures death of the modern Republican party. So, do they go for the Hail Mary pass or just give up?  It seems to me that a rational party goes for the Hail Mary pass, which is what they're doing.

So, the good news is that the Republican party, Tea Partiers included, probably isn't crazy.  The bad news is that it's hard to see how this whole thing plays out without the country, and possibly much of the world, being badly hurt.




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