Scenarios where each agent acting in their rational (short-term) best interest, leads to collective behavior that makes everyone worse off in the long term. .

Once one agent learns how to become more competitive by sacrificing a common value, all its competitors must also sacrifice that value or be outcompeted and replaced by the less scrupulous. Therefore, the system is likely to end up with everyone once again equally competitive, but the sacrificed value is gone forever. From a god’s-eye-view, the competitors know they will all be worse off if they defect, but from within the system, given insufficient coordination it’s impossible to avoid. Article - Meditations on Moloch

Agents often create Reinforcing Feedback Loops that increasingly move towards the destruction of common well-being.

Coordination failure is one useful lens to view the interlocking crises we face in modern societies. For example, climate change would be easier to deal with if everyone could agree to take simultaneous action to reduce carbon-intensive activity. But without that agreement, it’s in everyone’s short term self-interest to keep polluting.

The solution to coordination failure is a mix of social conventions & formal rules: think of the social pressure we put on companies to be more ecologically responsible, backed up by a police force that fines polluters. Richard Bartlett

a situation in which sufficient cooperation can benefit everyone, but there is some incentive to cheat or to seek a free ride. Many environmental problems that require changes in individual behavior are collective action problems. The general insights are that cooperative behaviors are more likely to emerge with repeated interactions in smaller, more homogeneous communities (or in networks that can recreate these conditions) that use punishment and communication to enforce norms and where there are few mistakes in propagating strategies or judging the need for sanctions. From Paper - Social Norms and Global Environmental Challenges The Complex Interaction by Elinor Ostrom et. al


  • Tragedy of the Commons
  • Arms Race
    • AI/bio-weapon developments
      • Focusing on opportunity rather than risks
  • Price wars
  • Pollution of the Planet by Individual Nations
  • Beauty wars on social media
    • all apps introduce filters converging to beauty standards
      • the more you use them the more followers you get
      • the more everyone uses them, the more you have to use them
    • using these filters make you dislike your real appearance (without filters)
    • no one wants to use them but everyone does

Global Scale Coordination Failures

  • Governments currently “solve” (read: address) some of these coordination failures nationally (overlogging, overfishing etc…) with rule of law and enforcement (monopoly of violence)
  • Internationally, there’s no ability to do rigorous enforcement
    • sanctions are often not enough
    • Ostrom’s Framework to Managing Commons can work in small-scale, local applications. But it is much harder on a global scale, with complex power relations and catastrophic weapons
  • coordination among companies is further discouraged by antitrust laws


  • The god of negative sum games/coordination failures
    • incentivizes selfish actions that externalizes harm to all other actors

Why useful to think about Moloch

  • it helps to
    • find a common denominator to many different problems
    • realize that no one wants the final outcome, but we end up with it
  • the frame of a God stands for and simplifies an underlying emergent dynamic in human systems

dealing with Moloch

  • races to the top
    • Tesla, creating a market race to make better electric cars
  • beat it without becoming it
    • aware and literate about the games of power, but not using the,

Created on: 2020-12-21 Inspired by: Daniel Schmachtenberger Related: Game Theory | biosphere stewardship | Article - Meditations on Moloch