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Game Theory in Politics

As we’ve seen in recent events, the intensity of America’s partisan polarization has only been on the rise. We’ve abandoned the idea of putting the country first. Instead, we settle with putting our respective party first and all others last. Your political stance has become as important as your religion, where families don’t want their children marrying outside of their party. This divide has hindered the advancement of the economy and America at large because it has induced distrust in our government. Noah Smith argues that the principles of game theory can help us solve this issue.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma, one of the most famous examples in the development of game theory, shows that the best outcome for both participants would be if the prisoners worked together. But we see in practice that this is not the case. Each prisoner is more focused about their benefit and will take the risk of betraying the other, only to end up losing. Why does this happen? Because both players in the game are aware that the game will be over once they make their decision. This is clearly not the case in politics, yet we as constituents play this game as if it is.

If the Prisoner’s Dilemma game is repeated and both players know that the other isn’t going away, they begin to cooperate over time. Since they don’t know when the game will end, they are not focused on screwing over the other player because they care about their long-term payoff as opposed to the short-term payoff in a one-stop game. Both players will be better off over time. Regardless of what side of the political spectrum we are on, we aren’t going anywhere.

There are important contributions to society that come from all sides of politics. If either one of the two major parties were to secede, they would independently fail because of their mutual dependence. We act as if each election is a one-stop Prisoner’s Dilemma game, where we focus more on increasing one party’s payoff and decreasing the other. But elections happen every so often. Politics is a game that is repeated indefinitely. So, if we accept this fact, we can work to increase the long-term payoffs of all Americans as opposed to decreasing the short-term payoffs of some Americans each political cycle.

This article takes the idea of game theory as discussed in class and builds on it by analyzing games that aren’t played only once. We’ve only seen one-stop games where the payoff is gauged simply. The payoff of each player’s strategy is now weighted differently because the game will be repeated. This is an interesting application of a theory to our lives.



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