The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Armageddon and discount rates

April 30, 2009

A longstanding plan in my circle at Columbia was to take a large number of existing game-theoretic models, apply an infinite discount rate (rendering the value of future gains and losses effectively zero), and submit our findings to Rationality and Society as an article entitled “The Impact of Belief in the End Times on Common Non-Cooperative Games.”

So I’m sad to report that anecdotal evidence suggests our findings, had we proceeded with the plan, might have lacked any empirical validity. Tim Burke:

The scene: the supermarket checkout line this afternoon. The woman ahead of me and the clerk are having an animated conversation.

Clerk: “I’ve read the Left Behind books, you know. It makes you think, it really does.”
Woman: “Yes, it’s just like Revelation now.”
Clerk: “Completely.”
Woman: “You know Our Lady of Guadalupe? Well, she’s from Mexico City too. So it makes sense that it would start there.”
Clerk: “Though I thought it wouldn’t be until 2012.”
Woman: “You have to be ready to meet Our Maker anytime. I think this is it, though.”
Clerk: “The Aztec calendar is more accurate than ours, isn’t that true.”

Woman finishes paying, walks away. As I leave the store, she’s looking over her receipt carefully and heads back into the store, looking to question something on the bill. As I head out the door, I look back and she’s energetically showing the receipt to the manager.

But I can’t help wondering.

Perhaps the woman was simply hedging her bets? She might, after all, worry about being one of those left behind….

website | + posts

Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.