Voltaire: Game Theorist

Voltaire didn’t just champion markets he used them to his advantage.  In one scheme he successfully cornered the market on a poorly-designed government lottery buying all the tickets to score a sure profit.  Jerry Muller writing in his excellent The Mind and the Market: Capitalism in Western Thought speculates that Voltaire’s legendary hypochondria also had an economic basis.

Voltaire loaned large sums of money to members of the royalty, in return for a lifelong annual payment…He lived for eight-four years, and throughout the last four decades of his life, he spoke of illness and his imminent demise.  Since his debtors had to make the full annual payments only as long as the original lender was alive, those to whom Voltaire loaned funds were more likely to agree to a higher annual rate if they had reason to think that his life would be short.


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