Game Theory 3: Monopoly Itch Mite Cure

Part of what makes game theory interesting is the use of analogies to analyze rules.   Gedankenexperiment (Thought experiment) is a game theory approach to philosophy and ethics.   And for an Ethical E-Waste blog, its a way to view a situation from 20,000 feet.

Wikipedia - Schr√∂dinger coined the term Verschr√§nkung (entanglement).

What if one player uses a different set of dice than another player?  If that player won 60% of 1,000 games, you'd want to control for imbalanced dice... but you'd have spent a lot of time playing in order to prove it, so it seems better if both players have to use the same die without the effort to prove one set of dice is faulty.  That requires an umpire, an authority, an NFL, and NBA, a regulator.

In non-democratic communist governments, the authority is itself a monopoly.  Regulators can be paid off, and you can't go to court to appeal weighted the dice.  In capitalism, the use of patents and trademarks create temporary, time-sensitiv,e monopolies... the authorities enforce your monopoly for a limited amount of time, which does promote research and invention.  The use of a combination of government regulators and capitalist corporations is a horrible system, the worst, except for all the other ones.

As this week's thought experiment, lets look at a theoretical entanglement of ethics and patent law.

What about... PermaChiggerInc?

What if a corporation - PermaChigger - cross bred some kind of chigger and itch mite to develop a type of scabies resistant to sulfur, to permathrin, and neem  oil.. resistant to every treatment except their trademarked GMO petrochemical?  The entire world is scratching its collective butt off, and the money rolls in.   The GMO treatment can be manufactured at scale, cheaper to produce and more profitable.  Empty bottles of PermaChigger become as common as litter from bottled water.

That's about the worst capitalist system I can think of.  It's similar to AIDS conspiracy theories of a decade ago, but the AIDS conspiracy doesn't make sense because it kills the clients.  Mite management might make more sense.

Short of being caught contaminating people on purpose, the corporation has engineered itself a guaranteed profit.  They don't even need to do the dirty work of enforcing it, they have government trade commissions and international police to stop the sale of counterfeit and copied product.  I'm not anti-capitalist, and the system here is the one which AIDS and Ebola have the highest chance of being brought under control.

Profit ensues.

Now imagine a Nigerian man, Benson, who has never been to school, from a pidgin speaking corner of an inner city Lagos slum, has the itch.  A six foot six man weighing 260 pounds, he's black as they come and looks scary as all hell when he gets mad.  He has the genetically modified mites, his wife has it, his kids have it, all their neighbors in Lagos are scratching their thighs off.  But they can't afford the Capitalist GMO treatement.  It's not a fatal condition, but life would be a lot better if he thought of a solution.

The gentle itchy giant Benson discovers something... if he waters down the patented itch mite formula - say a 15% mixture - he can cut it with banana oil and it's just as effective. Benson mixes it with the oil of a banana leaf (or something Neem-y), the franken-chiggers are gone in hours.  So he starts to buy empty bottles of PermaChigger and waters them down with Banana-Neem.  He's able to sell his Benson-ite across Lagos for 50% the cost of PermaChigger's treatement, and make a sizeable profit.   In a couple of years he's selling across western Africa, and the PermaScabies scare is out of the news.   

PermaChigger Inc. stock begins to fall.

Now there are several questions here.   Ethically, Benson is filling a need that people cannot otherwise afford to fill.  In fact, PermaChigger is still selling 15% of their product than they'd sell if no on in Nigeria can afford otherwise.  From a recycling perspective, the re-use of empty PermaChigger bottles is great.

Oh, and upstream... the production of PermaChigger's branded, trademark cure, is made from endangered baby seal pelts and tin mined from Indonesian coral reefs.

Ok, the votes are going to come in soundly against PermaChigger if they don't find a way to balance the perception an African underdog.   They'll get a few votes for patent infringement, but if Benson's paying for the 15% of PermaChigger in his recipe, it's hard to claim damages.

So PermaChigger donates a million dollars for "poverty porn".  What huh? Hey, it worked against FairTrade cotton (the Victoria's Secret cotton picked "by hand" by African women during summers out of school).   It worked against reused computers sold to Egyptian students during the green revolution.   

Photos of children picking banana leaves for Benson-Ite.  Empty bottles of Benson-ite labelled PermaChigger bottles littered in African dumps.   How about a hysterical, unresearched, Blackstone Institute claim that Benson-Ite is "worse than Chernobyl"?  How about shots of urban Lagos, gritty, dirty pictures of poor people scrapping a living.  People much prefer nature shots of giraffes, and "project eden" sounds like a return to nature which scabies-scratching-African-urbanites should agree is better than .. huh? Wha..?  Mais Dis-donc.

Surely ethical Stewards can agree on legislation, and form a CAER solution to this type of primitive skin care.  The legislation could ban the sale of 15% PermaChigger, and ban export of empty PermaChigger bottles to non-OECD, banana-growing, nations.   PermaChigger can get journalists and students and ethical "Stewards" to rally around the photos of kids at dumps, and even suggest that scabies may be better than the cure.

For the uneducated masses, it's simple.  Corporations are bullyboys.  If it's the only system they know, and communists or mosque-states or juntas promise relief, capitalism could kill itself doing this.  Or we may believe that Benson is just conning people, that the banana-oil remedy is doing more harm than good, and send the nanny-state Lords to stop the madness.

In my game theory, this is how Church, Medicine, and Governments fail.  We need a Teddy Roosevelt to pull the reigns on Project Eden.  The emerging markets and developing nations are itching for democracy, and tinkering their way onto the internet with used computers and displays.   Protecting them from themselves is NOT the job of ill-informed geographers and environmentalists.  First, do no harm.

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