Pittsburgh Legal Back Talk

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The Prisoner’s Dilemma

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | September 20, 2010

No. 506

Its a classic.  Two prisoners each have the key to the cell occupied by the other. They cannot reach each other — each must trust the other to throw the key across the intervening space.  After much discussion, they decide to each throw his key to the other simultaneously.

Both are aware that even good people under extreme pressure may not be trustworthy.  But under the circumstances, nothing can be gained without trusting the other party.

A version of the Prisoners’ Dilemma was played out on a TV show called “Bachelor Pad.”  No, I never watched it, I read about it (and saw a clip of the episode) in the Freakonomics Blog.

Other versions of the Prisoners’ Dilemma exist, including one where two accomplices in crime are encouraged by the police to rat on the other.

We are forced to play variations on this game all of the time.  We pay  in advance without any practical recourse if what is delivered is unsatisfactory or not delivered at all. (The Bride’s Dilemma) We provide a valuable commodity or service to someone who, as a practical matter, cannot be forced to pay through the legal system.

At times we are forced to trust total strangers with nothing more to go on than a few words and a facial expression. Every time we trust another human being, even someone we know well, we take a calculated risk. But then, opportunity comes wrapped in risk.



CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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