SWACHH BHARAT: A Prisoner’s Dilemma

Swachh Bharat campaign is being emphasised and showcased on all leading media platforms- citing that people should be mindful of the garbage they behold and how they choose to get rid of it. It aims to make people more aware of their sanitary conditions and to have each of them be individually accountable to their own actions by an awakening of conscience. But, there is a contradiction here.

We keep our houses spic and span to the best of our abilities but don’t pay a heed to management of garbage once we step out of our homes. Sanitation, Cleanliness and hygienics have been an integral part of our culture and history, yet we fail to meet unto our own expectations of ourselves the moment we step out of our houses.

As rational individuals, we know what is best for us and we should go ahead and maximise, in Economic parlance, our utility which lies in a stupendously beautiful garden, a golden shimmering beach or a beautiful road-clean and refreshing. But then the question to ask is, ‘why do we fail?’

In game Theory, lies a vey important explanation to irrational behaviour of people- Prisoner’s Dilemma. It basically creates a situation where one person’s benefit depends on what another person will do. Therefore, the actions of that person will depend on what he thinks the other will do.

Prisoner’s Dilemma Tradeoffs

2 prisoners are held in different rooms and interrogated separately. Given that none of the two will admit to the crime even if they have committed, each has the option of testifying against the other or remaining silent. They accrue benefits based on the trade-offs in the image above.

The minimum jail sentence is when both keep quiet- so that should be the ideal choice. Each prisoner should keep quiet to achieve maximum benefit.

But, then the thought occurs ‘What if the other confesses? If that happens, he goes scot-free but I will go to prison for 10 years.’

So, the dominant strategy to play this game, for both players, would be to confess about the other. This is the ‘minimum risk’ situation. They receive 5 years sentence which is more than 1 year but less than 10 years. And once they confess, they are sure of not getting 10 years- its either 1 or 5 depending on the other. And hence, even though not ideal, both players will confess and get a 5 year sentence v/s keeping quiet and going in jail only for a year.

Throwing of garbage on the road is also a prisoner’s dilemma- the benefit of not throwing garbage will only come if everyone not throws it. So, if I end up not throwing garbage on the road but if someone else does, I’m going to feel at a loss and next time, chances are that I will throw too thinking that everyone will anyways throw garbage and the road is going to be dirty anyways.

I can influence the people living in my house to a large extent and ensure that the house is not littered. But that is not the case with people on the road given that they are out of my locus of control. So my dominant strategy, like the prisoner, will be to throw the garbage because everyone else will throw anyway. And I’m going to think, ‘Why should I carry it home? What difference is one man going to make by taking it home because the thousands of others are going to throw it anyway?’ If most people in a city are thinking the way I am, then there is bound to be garbage on the roads.

Everyone knows the value of cleanliness and hygiene but people are unsure of other’s actions and that stops them from keeping the roads and surroundings clean. For a government, to and stress on the importance of cleanliness is a waste of energy and all the efforts of this campaign are going in vain.

Instead, they should focus efforts on building dustbins and plan out landfills around each city. Most people care for their city and don’t want to dirty their surroundings but if they don’t have a dustbin to throw garbage, they are bound to throw it on the road. No amount of advertising can stop it as they have already conjectured trade-offs in their minds and then reached a conclusion.

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