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Game Theory

March 22, 2012

The past week we’ve touched the surface of game theory in both my Global Sustainability class and my International Management class. For the latter we’ve watched Adam Curtis’ The Power of Nightmares and The Trap, which both contain some interesting viewpoints on history. The first part of the Trap deals specifically with game theory and how it shaped America’s nuclear strategy during the Cold War. If you haven’t seen them, I recommend you take a look. Part 3 of The Trap also ties in with the concepts of Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine which is worth a look.

I know I am definitely no expert on game theory, but if you have never heard of it before, you should definitely check it out. My class dealt specifically with the Security Dilemma and Chicken.

In the security dilemma the rational decision for the prisoner is to defect rather than to cooperate with the other prisoner, while in Chicken the rational decision is to cooperate. One would always try to avoid the worst possible outcome, and in Chicken that would be gambling with death.

In our class we applied both theories to the real world. The example used was Bush’s decision not to sign the Kyoto protocol. With that decision, America became a free rider of other nation’s agreement and effort to lower greenhouse gas emissions, without contribution. That decision might have been rational if you were playing the Security Dilemma – defect rather than cooperate – but what if the game was really Chicken?  Defect in a game of chicken would most likely mean death, which was the whole point of the example. Playing with our own earth really is a game of Chicken. The rational decision has to be to cooperate, because if we don’t, our planet won’t be such a nice place to live down the road.

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