Interview with University Of Chicago Nobel Laurate, Roger B. Myerson

Roger Bruce Myerson (born March 29, 1951) is an American economist and co-winner, with Leonid Hurwicz and Eric Maskin, of the 2007 Nobel Prize in Economics "for having laid the foundations of mechanism design theory." He has made contributions as an economist, as an applied mathematician, and as a political scientist. Roger Myerson was born on March 29, 1951 to a Jewish family. He attended Harvard University, where he received his A.B., S.M. (1973), and Ph.D. (1976), all in applied mathematics. From 1976 to 2001, he was a professor of economics at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, where he conducted much of his Nobel-winning research. Currently, he is the Glen A. Lloyd Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago. Myerson has published “Game Theory: Analysis of Conflict” (Harvard University Press, 1991) and “Probability Models for Economic Decisions” (Duxbury Press, 2005)

Transcript: Yusuf Ergen

Ekopolitik (Murat Sofuoğlu):As an institute we are working on conflict resolution cases as you do. We have organized workshops on Iraq and related issues gathering ethnic, religious and academic notables, and political psychology seminars in which academicians like Vamık D. Volkan and A. Betül Çelik have shared their knowledge and experience with us. I followed your speech in here (Israel Presidential Conference, Facing Tomorrow 2008) titled “Resolve and Restraint in Conflict and Peace” which was very deep and beneficial for me. But I thought your speech was kind of misunderstood by one of the speakers who spoke after you. You evoked Gandhi and his use of the concept ‘ahimsa’ (nonviolence) in terms of violence and resistance. Because Gandhi in one of his private letters advised the Jews in the middle of the Holocaust not to fight but surrender, your reference to ahimsa and Gandhi was perceived with suspicion. Indeed as you said “The power of demonstrating restraint with resolve is at the core of Gandhi's concept of satyagraha (truth-firmness), which he specifically distinguished from ahimsa (nonviolence).”

Roger Myerson: Exactly it has been misunderstood.  The reason I cited the original Hindu terms is to make it clear the distinction between satyagraha and ahimsa. In English the term ‘non-violence’ is used regularly to denote these two different concepts of satyagraha and ahimsa; we just call them Gandhi’s ‘non-violence,’ which creates some confusion. Properly, nonviolence is ahimsa.  I use the phrase ‘restraint with resolve’ to denote in English an idea that I think is closer to Gandhi's idea of satyagraha.

We should not forget that Gandhi made a specific distinction and I think Elie Wiesel’s comments didn’t exactly understand what I was referring to. I was trying to put less stress on Gandhi’s ‘non-violence’.  Whether non-violent or violent, our forceful action of protest can be made more effective if it is linked to an expression of the restraint, a willingness to settle and a willingness to appreciate the adversaries’ view of justice even as we maintain our own.

Of course there may be great difficulty to maintain that kind of state in our minds. We must defend ourselves, but we must recognize how things look to the adversary. Perhaps it may be easier to motivate yourself to fight if you pretend that your adversary is simply evil, but you can’t afford that danger anymore, especially in this part of the world.

How about the references to Gandhi’s letters that basically said to the Jewish people ‘you have to just commit suicide’? Did you hear anything about that?

I have read those letters, and I agree that Gandhi grossly misunderstood the situation in Europe at the time. Nazism was not destroyed by non-violence, it was destroyed by mass armies of the world’s greatest powers. The Jewish people in Europe had sadly few options, violent or non-violent in resisting the situation in Europe.

But what Gandhi did that was truly important was to lead a political movement for independence in India in a remarkably better way. Of course there was great violence in India after revolution and yet I think it may have been worse if Gandhi had not set the tone for the movement. India came to the world in 1947 as a desperately poor nation, but Gandhi's leadership helped shape the new nation of India so that it has been genuinely democratic, and it has remained so. I think that is a great accomplishment, but I think the effectiveness of his protest was enhanced by his masterful use of restraint with resolve, satyagraha.  And even more than in India, Gandhi's earlier protests in South Africa always emphasized restraint with resolve.  In South Africa, he always made very clear the limited nature of his movement's objectives.

I think when Martin Luther King applies those ideas at last successfully to bring racial justice at long last to the U.S, much of his success was by showing bravery. It’s not just non-violence but people who went into these racial protests in south of the U.S for racial justice faced enormous risks of dogs and physical threats. They faced those threats with bravery and restraint. Their disciplined restraint was sending an implicit message to white racists saying, “You can trust us to be free and enfranchised, and we will not take revenge.” Because their willingness to withhold from violence in face of the dogs and police battalions showed a discipline that could also be applied to say, “We can accept the discipline of participating in American democracy with political equality.” I think that is an important part of the message because the racist oppressors in American history were driven in part by a fear that they couldn’t stop oppressing, because then these people who are oppressed might take revenge. And so the lesson from King’s method of protest was: it’s safe to stop oppressing.

I think many Palestinians try to articulate that message which Israelis need to hear. They need to hear from Palestinians that Israel can stop its military control that oppresses the lives of Palestinians and that Palestinians will accept the Israelis as their neighbors on some part of this beautiful land.

I like to know more about your expression which is framed as ‘restraint with resolve’. If we can combine these two crucial elements altogether, I guess it could make wonders.

Gandhi was determined to protest against oppression, and the fact he chose to protest with ‘non-violence’ is important. But I have tried to argue that the nonviolence is not necessarily the essence of it. He tied any protest into the following form:  There is a wrong out there, and it will take a resolve to oppose the wrong, and in that sense you might harm the wrongdoer; but at the same time, I think, Gandhi’s true message was to constantly express a clear preparedness to settle and to appreciate the humanity of the wrongdoing opponents. I don’t necessarily agree everything Gandhi said, and I certainly don’t agree with what he said about European Jews during World War II. I agree with Elie Wiesel that his letter to the European Jews sadly missed the point.

In relation to this approach I like to ask about global terrorism which is growing up. Bush administration is taking this as a serious threat, so they coined the phrase “war on terror”. How do you see that this approach will work or not? I have conversations with some people in the audience who were like ‘No, Your approach couldn’t be applied to our enemies who do not have the same rationale as us.’ How would you react to these comments?

I think there are genuinely evil people or people in the sickness in the world. We may think about Adolf Hitler, an evil leader of Germany.  He was a man with a sickness, who destroyed his own nation and destroyed a large part of the European Jewry. But people like him become dangerous to the whole world only when they become leaders, and they become leaders only when millions of normal people choose to give support to them. So we have to ask: What could give people with normal hopes and dreams an incentive to turn to such leaders? I think the answer comes from fear and it may also come from weakness.

Adolf Hitler came to power because German politics were poisoned by the reparation policies of the Allies and the Versailles Treaty. German politics were poisoned with the latent threat of Allied invasion, and yet the Allies had no resolve to resist when Hitler began. The Germans needed a defense against the crazy implicit threat of invasion in these very ill-thought invasive reparation schemes, and yet there was no resolve on the other side to defend against militant aggression from Germany, and that made it almost rational, in the short-term sense, for many Germans to say, ‘Oh! Let’s support this crazy Hitler.” In the end, it turned out to be as crazy as it originally seemed; in the end it did bring a great disaster to Germany as well. But in the short term, from the perspective of the early 1930s, it looked like a good investment So both it was not just a weakness of the neighbors against Germany’s expansionism but also the implicit ineffective threat to invade Germany that was constantly being articulated in the reparations policy.

We need to ask how we do affect the politics of our neighbors. That, to me is the first lesson. The fact is that there are crazy people out there.  It’s true there are criminals who need to be controlled by police work. But if criminals that become leaders of nations, then we are really facing a great danger, and I would like to focus on the question on what gives to normal people an incentive to give their political supports to people who preached hatred.

In this sense, how do you see the war on terror?

I think the "war on terror" is much too big a title. I think terrorists are outlaws and it should be a struggle to build law in the world. Missions were necessary and U.S needs to build a framework of global law.  But what is problematic is a kind of unilateralism where U.S says "we have committed to pursue terrorism into any nation" but have not articulated what kind of multinational jury is allowed to pass judgment on whether any particular nation is or is not guilty of harboring terrorism. It can’t just be up to the establishment in Washington. Such unrestrained unilateralism is bad for all of us, including Americans like me.  It can be seen as an arrogant statement of aspiration for world dominance. It is bad for my country to be seen so, because we want to assure people everywhere that they don’t need to turn to terrorist or militant anti-American leaders.

People have spoken in this conference about the fear of Iranian nuclear aspirations. I think one critical thing, to discourage the Iranians from such aspirations, is to give them credible guarantees that America has no desire and no plans to invade their country, that they do not have to worry about our long-term ambitions. We want them to feel confident that, if they did not harbor international terrorists, they would have nothing to worry about. I think that this simple message has not been made sufficiently clear. Our leaders are showing bold resolve and have tried to keep all the military options to themselves. As long as we keep it to ourselves we are frightening the people and make more dangerous ourselves in the world. Everyone in every country wants protection against even a small probability of invasion.

I had a chance to talk to Prof. Vamık Volkan who had a worldwide expertise and fame on political psychology.He has worked on ethnic clashes and religious conflicts for many years. Vamık Volkan told me human nature is much more violent than being peaceful. How do you comment about that?

Human nature has violence and non-violence and lawlessness. Violence is typically committed by young males. But whoever commits violence, it’s defined by social terms and it’s enabled by people, elderly or young, females or males, who have participated in social decisions to be more aggressive against another group. I think it is good to start with an assumption of certain rational self-interest. If we start to assume thatsome specific people are merely dangerous, pathologically violent individuals, that is too far to go. What can you do with a wild dog? You have to either imprison or destroy him. But if we jump to that conclusion too quickly about some people, then we could drive them to behave defensively in exactly that way, creating a pattern of violence as a self-fulfilling prophecy. I think it’s a much better assumption that the great mass of people in every part of the world are prepared to be benevolent but also insist on the protection of their community and so are prepared under some circumstances to give support to militant violent individuals when they think that it is necessary to protect themselves. And you don’t want your neighbors to thinking that about you.

What do you think about religious conflicts and wars? How do you see religions’ role in peace-making process? Many people say religion causes many wars than peace.

There have been many wars caused by differences of religious and ethnic identity. Our identities are different, and religion is part of how we define our identity. But overall, religion here and everywhere is about living together in peace and with just compromise.

(Ekopolitik, 10 June 2008)

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