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« Horwitz Out and About | Main | Adam Martin on Things I've Said and What They Mean »


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Steven, glad you are continuing the discussion. I posted a response to you at:


Best, Bill

I have posted a reply over at your place Bill.


On the point! Every game theorist would applaud Suarez. That's the beauty and tragedy of the game. And I was wearing my Ghana cap from the World Cup 2006 in Germany. :-(

Yeah. Point well made! I just bounced off Twitter arguing on similar lines with a friend and telling him how Suarez was not cheating.

Come to think of it, since denying a goal scoring opportunity in the "D" is a penalty-kick for the opposition, and since the penalty is more likely to be converted, Suarez was in fact "going short"-- he was punting either that his team-mate the goalie 'd time his dive well and save the penalty or the Ghanian player who 'd take it will be bogged down by the occassion and shoot wide/hit the bar. In short, Suarez, and his team therefore, were rewarded for taking the risk-- punting that penalty might not be converted. And they were rewarded for the calculated risk. He must also know that Asamoah Gyan is likely to take it (and he had already taken two on two, apart from a field goal against the USA); that makes it similar to shorting stock (Read:Gyan!) and finally, it was just desserts for them. They did not concede!..

Had a discussion with a co-worker in a similar vein on whether it is moral to walk away from a mortgage when you are underwater as many are doing lately. If both you and the bank agree to the rule that you will pay your mortgage or else they will foreclose then by walking away from an underwater mortgage there is no morality component involved, it is merely using the rules to your benefit much as in your sports example.


I agree with you on the technical difference between cheating and rational rule breaking. But to me, the only lesson is that if it is rational to openly break the rules, the incentive structure must be seriously flawed. Which in fact it is, given that Suarez was suspended for just one game.

In the british FA-Cup finals, the ghanaian Kevin-Prince Boateng tackled german captain Michael Ballack, injuring him and preventing him from playing in the World Cup finals. As Ghana and Germany had to play each other in Group D, it was speculated that Boateng injured Ballack on purpose. Let's assume in the press conference after the FA-Cup game, Boateng would've said "Hell yeah I tried to break his ankle, it's just the rational thing to do. You can't buy that edge over Germany for money."
Would he be a national hero for you too?
I certainly don't want to belong to that kind of nation...


and just in case it wasn't clear enough http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SaV46PmyvOU

I appreciate that this is really just an academic discussion, and understood like that it is interesting an insightful to clarify the distinction between cheating and rational rule break, but you Suarez fans should ask yourselves:

Would it be ok if someone with mate quality obviously higher than your own had sex with your wife/husband/partner, made no attempt to hide it, claimed that they were just rationally trying to spread their genes, and acted like they were some kind of hero for doing so?

Suarez is a cheat. He denied Ghana their rightful place in the semi-final. FIFA should give him a lifetime ban from international football.

Has my wife consented to this? In this case it is SHE who is the cheat. :) That's really an awful analogy and just goes to point out the difference between the artificial zero-sum world of sports and the real positive-sum world of society.

Breaking rules in sports normally don't involve coercion or physical harm, as ones in the social world might.

I also think there's a difference between athletes who use the existing rules to their advantage within the game vs. those who deliberately attempt to injure etc.. The difference, to me, is that it's one thing to violate a rule directed at a specific act (Suarez) in the context of the game as opposed to anything involving a deliberate attempt to injure or, say, a baseball player who bodyslams another to prevent him from scoring.

I have no problem at all, within the context of sports, of players rationally breaking a rule when doing so provides them an advantage, short of the intent-to-injure type scenarios. Tom above is right that if such situations exist, it's probably because the rule is a bad one. In Suarez's case, awarding an automatic goal for handballs that stop what the referee determines would have been a goal would solve that problem. (BTW, that's what ice hockey does when a player is prevented from scoring on an open net by a penalty when the defensive team has pulled its goalie. No penalty shot, just an automatic goal. The difference is that this is VERY rare and would never decide a winner as the team with the empty net is already down one or two goals to begin with.)

Rational rule-breaking indeed indicates a problem with the rule itself, while cheating more likely indicates that detection is the real problem. Whether fixing the problem with the rule that is being rationally broken is itself rational is another question.

I would have never thought that such an interesting lesson could be learned out of a soccer match. :-)

This is for Robert http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUwhRR5HKuY&feature=player_embedded. Pay attention and you will see Ghana is not the victim, FIFA tried hard for them to win but thankfully they didn't succeed.

As a Uruguayan who is also a graduate econ student in GMU I fully endorse and support this comment. Nobody would be having this discussion if Ghana would have scored. The penalty and red card are exactly what the rules of the game dictate for that type of behavior and he risked his presence in the semifinal which is a bigger punishment for him, specially if Uruguay loses that game. From an economic point of view as Hayek remarked Adam Smith advocated for a framework that would coordinate the actions of good and bad men. The only requirement is that these bad men do least harm. In this case by being expelled and missing out the next game he received his due punishment and more harm was done by the Ghanian player not scoring.

I think we really excuse the Uruguayan player because his move was probably instinctive and in the heat of the moment.

Ordinarily in sport as in real life we condemn deliberate rule breakers even if they think they would never be caught. Hayek thought this was the basis for all civilisation.

I'm with Malinowski: ‘The real reason why all these economic obligations are normally kept, and kept very scrupulously, is that failure to comply places a man in an intolerable position, while slackness in fulfilment covers him in opprobrium. The man who would persistently disobey the rulings of law would soon find himself outside the social and economic order – and he is perfectly aware of that’ (Malinowski, 1940, p. 41). ‘The penalties consist in the shame and ridicule which covers the culprit and, indeed, all cases of theft brought to my notice were perpetrated by feeble-minded people, social outcasts or minors’ (Malinowski, 1940, p. 118)Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1926 (1940 edition). Crime and Custom in Savage Society. Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner; London.

If Prof Horwitz is right then self-regulation is impossible. It shows how far legislation has debased modern morality that we kind of respect the rule-breaker.

PS: In Rugby they have the penalty try. If it looks like a try would be scored except for a foul then the try is given.

Good post. I have covered it here in my blog. A dilemma


I disagree with you on this point: "an actual positive desire to get caught because the penalty is worth preventing the outcome that will come from following the rules." I really don't think that if the referee hadn't seen him hitting the ball with his hand, he would stop the game and ask to be punished by his doing. If he did that, instead of a hero, the norm would be that he'd be accused of being a moron because he (like many others have) could've get away with it and chose not to do it.
I'm not convinced with the actor-based rationality implied in your post, and not sure that the intentions of the player was as pure as you describe.

No cheating, obviously. For all not convinced: how exactly is this different to Basketball when an intentional foul is committed to stop the clock? It is even called that way, an INTENTIONAL foul. Instead of letting the clock run, a losing team might prefer paying the cost of letting the other team take a free throw, and hope the miss. Just like Uruguay hoped Ghana missed their shot. NOBODY is questioning if this move is legit in the NBA. Is it questioned on the world cup perhaps because for some, soccer is more unfamiliar?

You are listening to Religion Radio Online-Simply to Chill out, I'm Religion. To possess religion in which you can't see; to become inclined to perform on within the darkish.

I feel like people have to take into account that cheating doesn't always mean lying, it just means not being faithful in a supposedly monogamous relationship. I've met people who agree to their spouses cheating with certain people, under certain guidelines, and getting something out of the arrangement as well.

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