A Lot to Lose

by on December 4, 2008 at 7:40 am in Economics, Food and Drink, Sports | Permalink

Ted Frank and Ray Lehmann are taking the Stickk approach to weight loss to an extreme.  For every pound less than 60 (!) that Ray fails to lose in the next 9 months he has agreed to pay Ted, $1000.  Thus as much as $60,000 is on the line.  Ted has made the same bet with Ray.  The world has been put on notice.

Now this does raise an interesting prisoner’s dilemma problem, with Ted and Ray as the prisoners.  If the prisoners can agree to "cooperate" they could both eat and lose neither weight nor money.  But with $1000 per pound at stake can Ray count on Ted not to cheat on his diet by dieting (and vice-versa)?  But in this context is cooperation really cooperation or is it just joint self-sabotage?  A true dilemma.  But I have a solution.

I stand ready to be Leviathan!  As a service to my friends, I propose that Ted and Ray pay me $1000 for every pound less than 60 that they fail to lose.  Hell, out of the goodness of my heart, I will pay each of them $500 upfront for the honor of being Leviathan.  Now that is an incentive! 

Need I tell you that Ted and Ray are long-time loyal MR readers?       

1 bastiat December 4, 2008 at 7:51 am

I will be leviathan for $900 a pound.

2 Tom Kelly December 4, 2008 at 8:51 am

I have been on my own “contract diet” since July and have lost 70 pounds. I pay my teenage son $100 every week that I fail to lose at least 2 pounds. If I lose more than 3 pounds one week, I only need to lose 1 pound the next week.

I started at 330 on 7/12 and was down to 260 last week. I have only had to pay him one time.

The contract expires next July or when I reach 220 pounds (I’m 6′ 3″). Then we will probably use a new contract for maintaining weight.

3 AIG December 4, 2008 at 9:46 am


I would like to write the insurance policy on this bet.

4 Kevin Brancato December 4, 2008 at 10:10 am

Does the contract mandate binding arbitration?

5 Jody December 4, 2008 at 10:21 am

While I’m fine with treating it as a Prisoners dilemma (defect / not defect with private benefits to unilaterally defecting), the repeated / continuous observation of actions predicts radically different outcomes than a single one-off game.

Folk theorem and all that.

Or in other words, since this will actually be an infinite series of observable actions, each will know if the other is defecting and can take appropriate counter measures. Thus there is no need for a third-party referree and the system can be self-enforcing.

6 R.J. Lehmann December 4, 2008 at 10:32 am

Bob: Total liabilities are capped at $60,000 (that would be if one of us loses 60 or more pounds and the other loses nothing, or actually gains weight.)

And yes, the space in which I recorded the first video diary wasn’t big enough to get the full body shot I’d hoped for. I’ll be updating every two to three weeks, so I’ll have to get angle the next time.

7 Stephen Forde December 4, 2008 at 12:22 pm

The difference is that “Leviathan” doesn’t give its subjects a choice in whether or not it will enforce their agreements. It’s compulsory. You give them a choice in the matter.

8 JP December 4, 2008 at 1:06 pm

If I were Tom Kelly’s son, I would be learning to bake.

9 Paul Gowder December 4, 2008 at 1:38 pm

Doh, and then I saw Richard’s comment. Preempted!

10 not annonymous December 4, 2008 at 2:02 pm

The good news is that we save millions in government expenditures now that prisoners are now voluntarily entering prisons.

11 Scott December 4, 2008 at 2:42 pm

They should agree to pay the money to some non-profit that they both hate.

12 whitebread December 4, 2008 at 2:55 pm

so who is going to set up a market to trade “ted pays ray” and “ray pays ted” contracts?

13 Mercutio.Mont December 4, 2008 at 3:49 pm

I’ll pay $750 each for the right to be Leviathan at $1,000 per pound.

Free markets!

14 R.J. Lehmann December 5, 2008 at 12:05 am

Autolycus: It is scenario A. I owe Ted $1,000 for every pound he loses, he owes me $1,000 for every pound I lose, and the target (and thus, the cap on total liability that either of us can owe) is 60 pounds, for $60,000.

I don’t think the charity proposal would be a particularly strong motivator, at least in my case. The first problem is that, since our political and personal views are pretty similar, I can’t imagine there being too many charities Ted would support that I would dislike, or vice versa. And if we both chose the same disagreeable charity, that would offer an even stronger incentive to collude (which, while I understand the game theoretic curiousity, is not an outcome I’d consider terribly likely, anyway) if only to avoid handing over money to a third party we both dislike.

As currently constructed, the bet is not simply a negative incentive (avoiding loss) but one that also has the potential for financial gain. Having Ted give money to me is certainly a stronger motivation FOR me than would whatever hedonic value I’d derive from forcing him to give money to, well, whoever the University of Chicago’s rival is (no names come to mind.)

15 Andy December 5, 2008 at 2:03 pm

I feel that this would just encourage unhealthy behaviors. For example you can lose the most weight the fastest by eating nothing, but that’s a really terrible idea in terms of health.

16 JJ December 9, 2008 at 1:07 am

The payment part of the contract is, of course, unenforceable as it’s a penalty clause. cute bet tho.

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