Game Theory

Apr 07

Schelling points

I refered to these in an earlier post, so I figure a definition is in order. I originally came across it in David Friedman’s ruminations on the origins of Natural Rights theory. He defines it broadly as “a possible solution to the problem of coordination without communication”.

“Communication” might be better defined as meaningful communication. He lists many examples in the essay where no communication is possible, as well as zero-sum conflict where communication would not be believed.

The functional definition (i.e. the way I use the term) is that a Schelling Point is a point or marker that is obvious to both sides without explanation, and could also mark some point of principal to one of the sides, which would cause that side to expend more effort defending it than the point might seem to be worth.

The usual example of a Schelling Point is a river (flowing North to South in this example), with an opposing tribe on each side who need to set a border. There is no significant difference difference in land between using the river as the border, and using the river plus five feet West of the border. However, the river itself will always be chosen as the border because A)it’s obvious, and B) one tribe could very well attach special meaning to the river above and beyond the land itself, i.e. the Western Tribe shall not stain the ground made holy by the River God (or something like that).

The other example is abortion. The two popular Schelling Points at which “life begins” are considered to be either at conception (by the pro-lifers) and birth (by the pro-choicers). Both of these points are trivial in a lot of ways; the components are largely the same as they were before each event (differing in union in one way, in location and dependence the next). But, both of them are obvious to both sides in the dispute and both can be plausibly seen as having special meaning to either side (Ensoulment in one case, no physical attachment to the mother in the other).

In looking over this, I see I’ve called birth “trivial”. Oh well, the point still stands.

Apr 07

Pithy post on tortue

Tdaxp has an interesting post on the government use of torture here, to wit

My reply back to him mainly concerned, the subtile, which is The inside story of how the interrogators of Task Force 145 cracked Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s inner circle—without resorting to torture—and hunted down al-Qaeda’s man in Iraq. The title’s odd in that it is both boring and inflammatory.

The boredom first. I can imagine an article subtitled The inside story of how programmers at Microsoft Corporation released SQL Server 2008 on time — and without using hash tables.

I’ve always found the specific opposition to torture strange. We’re willing to jail people for the rest of their lives, hold them without trial, and bomb various countries which involves inherent civilian death and maiming. Drawing a line at torture seems odd to say the least. I suppose to some people it is a categorical difference in government action, and not an incremental difference in human suffering.

Now that I think about it, it does make for a good Schelling Point. It is objectionable to differing degree to both sides of the argument, as well as obvious to both. It is also seen as a categorical tactic (though not strategy) by both. Hmmm….

Mar 07

Random theories I haven’t thought through yet

Of fact-checked for that matter. Nonetheless, here are two bigthink ideas that have occurred to me recently:

  • With the notable exception of Imperial Japan, America hasn’t gone to war with any country that likes itself in the past 100 years. While I don’t usually go for theories involving Constructivism, all of the countries we’ve had conflict with, Nazi Germany, North Vietnam and North Korea, et al, are all fighting to some degree for national pride. This is why I’m not particularly worried about Iran, because the Iranians seem to like being Iranian.
  • The rise of dominant militaries can be summarized as discipline vs identity. By this I mean that the troops can be effective via skillful execution of a central plan, or simply by being themselves. The Romans were a good example of a disciplined group. They were able to carry out the will of their commanders due to training and tight organization. On the other hand, the Mongols required little central direction and usually just had to be their fearsome selves to successfully win wars. Most of the major conflicts through history can be characterized as a clash between these two tactics.

Aug 05

Thoughts on Gaza

For the past few generations Israel has occupied the Gaza strip (and other areas) and the Palestinians have been doing their intifada and generally becoming resentful. Now the Israelis are pulling out and leaving them their own area. The generally cited reason is that this shorten the Israeli security perimeter and makes it easier to defend.

After decades of occupation the main Palestinian “natural” skill would seem to be rock throwing and suicide bombing. What if the Israeli end game is to give the Palestinians what they want, and then let the various groups compete for dominance in bloody fashion? This keeps them divided and busy for years and the Israelis could offer weapons and intelligence and weapons to keep the fight going (like they supposedly did during the Iran-Iraq war in the 80s). All this would leave Israel relatively secure with the Palestinians taking themslves out of the picture.

Just a thought.

Jun 05

Ideas to elaborate on later

Here are ideas and historical (no emotional connection to me) events that have fundamentally affected my outlook.

In no particular order

  • Pareto Optimality
  • Coase Theorem
  • Hayek and Sowell on the limits and costs of knowledge
  • Gresham’s law
  • Napoleon’s invasion of Russia
  • Dominant Strategies
  • Schelling Points (as elaborated on by David Friedman)
  • The seatbelts kill theory of Steven Landsburg (though the theory might actually originate with George Stigler)
  • The diaries of Eric Hoffer (and his books, they’re fairly similar) as they deal with mass movements
  • Network effects
  • Robert Nozick’s notion of morality as a time saving device (morality is used very broadly) as explained in the Examined Life
  • The defensive boxing style of Pernell Whitaker

I’ll have more detail on what they are and how they are all used later.