A creature of habit
Every weekday he takes the number 2 bus line to get to the University of Chicago and back to his downtown apartment. Wearing his beige bucket hat, no one can see that his mind is an active battlefield; just looking out of the bus window, staring at the deep blue of Lake Michigan, might inspire him to come up with a new way of optimizing our economy. He’s done this for half his life, but Myerson likes his life to be as monotonous as possible, saying: "If I ate the same thing for dinner every night, that would be just fine with me." Would he call himself a geek? "Absolutely", he responds, admitting with a slightly mischievous smile that he read Paul Samuelson’s economics textbooks over his high school summer break, just for pleasure. For Myerson, working hard (what people like to call "nerdism") is the highest form of entertainment.
Can we use Game Theory to design a stable, peaceful, social system?
Despite this nerdism, it feels like the spirit of a wild child also burns within Roger Myerson. His speech is as fast as a high-speed pursuit, chasing down every new thought that comes in within seconds, which is probably why it’s hard to find a topic he isn’t curious about and won’t start reading up on. "Fundamental theoretical and empirical study of social phenomena will help us to manage the forces of destruction," he explains. But he also calls for more careful thinking. For him, Game Theory can help design a stable, peaceful social system because it provides a general framework, and reminds us that many different issues need to be taken into account. Experts in behavioral economics criticize game theorists for their assumption that humans are rational decision makers, and have doubts whether their scientific methods are adequate. Myerson agrees with these concerns, calling himself "full of folly"; but sometimes the real problem is not the human himself or his decisions, but the system that offers only certain options.
As an example, he highlights the process of government elections. In this case, people make decisions within a systemized framework. "It’s a distraction when you’re talking about reforming our institutions, changing the rules of our democratic governments, then to say: voters should stop being so foolish about the way they vote," Myerson asserts passionately, turning up the volume. "That’s a distraction from the question of whether we should change the rules of our electoral system. And for that it helps to assume that the individuals are doing the best they can to take care of themselves." He raps on the table for emphasis and leans back.
As a scientist - especially as a game theorist - he sees it as his responsibility to understand what’s important in social structures. And as a person who has always been interested in history, he bears the failures of the past in mind. "The great disastrous decisions throughout history have typically happened because people forgot about something," Myerson explains. "After World War II, everybody understood that the reparations scheme that was imposed after World War I was a disastrous mistake, so that mistake was not going to be repeated. But who’s to say that the victors establishing a new world order wouldn’t make yet another mistake." To advance humanity, Myerson knows that a general framework is needed, a way of systematically going through the issue.