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The Problem of Clean Hands

1 January 2009


The problem of dirty hands concerns the apparently inevitable need for effective politicians to do what is ethically wrong. This essay discusses a related problem in democratic elections of politicians being unwilling to commit themselves to precise positions on controversial policy issues. Given certain plausible assumptions, I demonstrate using a simple game theoretic model that there is an incentive structure for political candidates that is damaging to the public good. I contrast this problem with the classic prisoner’s dilemma and then go on to discuss some possible strategies for overcoming this problem by an improved system of political debates.


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