Youssef Cohen, Radicals, Reformers and Reactionaries. The prisoner’s dilemma and the collapse of democracy in Latin America (1994), Chapters 5, 8

Summary: In the context of the question of why democratic regimes were unable to survive structural economic weaknesses, this paper asks why groups in Latin America sought a path that resulted in outcomes against their desires, while co-operation would have resulted in an optimal outcome for all groups involved. In the model, both moderate groups (left and right) are willing to enact reforms, thus giving room for reconciliation. Failure to reconcile would lead to one group winning, and the other engaging in radical action, which would lead to retaliation and eventually a breakdown of democratic institutions. There is fear on both sides of ceding any power to the other, which would lead to an outcome that is antithetical to the opposing group – this fear is rooted in each moderate groups linkages to the extreme groups on their end of the political spectrum. Moderates try to assuage their counterparts, but it doesnt work because they dont control the extremists. Extremists tend to be disruptive as soon as any degree of co-operation is visible, attacking the moderates of their own stripe, forcing them to cave because they rely on them for support. In essence, the “instrumental uses the moderates make of the extremists afford the latter an opportunity to set in motion a spiral of radicalization which undermines all efforts to implement reforms through normal democratic channels.” (64) The moderates have a dilemma – the only way to keep reforms going is for both sides to sever ties with the radicals, but neither has an incentive to be the first to do so (Prisoners Dilemma). Defection is the dominant strategy for each player, so “each side will not break with its extreme counterpart, no agreement on reforms will be made, an all-out confrontation will ensue, and the democratic regime will collapse.” (68) This logic played out in both Chile and Brazil. However, Cohen warns against a purely structural explanation, emphasizing the need to \”know the actors beliefs and preferences to explain their choices, and to analyze in detail the logic of their strategic interaction.\” (75) For Cohen, structures are not deterministic, they offer a set of constraints and opportunities – always more than one.



Method: Game theoretic model of a Prisoners Dilemma involving four distinct groups (Moderates and extremists on both the left and the right) within a multi-party system