Intrade and the Prisoner’s Dilemma

Ok, it’s not exactly the Prisoner’s Dilemma, but it tastes the same.  Members of prediction market Intrade, have to decide whether to cooperate or be selfish.

The exchange is insolvent. It seems like the operator didn’t separate member money from its own money and then spent it. This basically makes it a ponzi scheme. It can keep operating as long as it keeps operating. There are sufficient member balances that it still has positive cash. As soon as it accounts for these liabilities to members, it is insolvent.

So, members are offered the chance to agree to a voluntary reduction in their claim and/or conversion to long-term investment. If nobody agrees, the exchange will be liquidated and everyone loses out and any inherent value in the exchange disappears. If enough agree, then those who don’t agree get to withdraw their full funds.

Under this argument, the incentive is for each member to be selfish. Let’s see why.

There are two scenarios – enough accept the terms, too few accept the terms.

If too few accept the terms, the payout is the same whether you agreed to accept the terms or not. So that won’t affect the decision. If there are enough who accept the terms, those who declined will get paid out in full.  The only way it makes sense or an individual to accept the terms is if the value of accepting the terms is greater than 100% of their account balance. This might be the case if they were converted to an equity value in the business and believed in its ongoing sustainability, but seems pretty unlikely.

The equity value has been massively damaged by the damage to brand value of the exchange. Outside parties or existing members wishing to take an equity stake need to consider carefully the extent of brand damage already and the $700,000 shortfall needed to restore solvency let alone any capital for future operations and investment.

Bye bye inTrade.

Published by David Kirk

The opinions expressed on this site are those of the author and other commenters and are not necessarily those of his employer or any other organisation. David Kirk runs Milliman’s actuarial consulting practice in Africa. He is an actuary and is the creator of New Business Margin on Revenue. He specialises in risk and capital management, regulatory change and insurance strategy . He also has extensive experience in embedded value reporting, insurance-related IFRS and share option valuation.

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