Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Cost of selfishness

Consider a network where two units of some content needs to be transported per sec. There are different paths and each path has a cost. Now, two different paths need to be chosen. If each individual unit of content is selfish, then the first unit that gets to pick the path chooses the cheapest and the second is left with no choice. But, if the first unit makes a considerate decision, the second unit gets a much better option. In the latter case, the overall cost to the society is lower. This is a very simplistic situation with only two players. In real life, the setup is extremely complex and there are very many players. The social cost can skyrocket and can be manifold greater than the socially optimal cost when everyone is unselfish. That is mathematics, but in real life, the cost cannot keep on increasing. Factors that have not been taken into account will creep in and the entire system will collapse. That is the fate of our society as is demonstrated by the multi-dimensional environmental collapse we are heading towards. When we see this societal cost of selfishness, what does responsible living constitute?

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