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The Rioting Game

The beginning of the conflict among Canadian students and the government began when Jean Charest’s Liberal party of Quebec proposed to raise tuition costs by $325 per year for five years.  Students refused to return to class, blocked university buildings and bridges, and vandalized. Reports of abuse from riot police occurred frequently and the turmoil served to divide the city.  The larger portion of the rioting ended on May 18, 2012, when the National Assembly of Quebec passed Bill 78, which states that all students have the right to receive an education at their university, and that no one may inhibit the universities ability to provide it.  Though the bill is certainly not unanimously supported, it did serve to put limits on the protesting and regulations on where the protests were allowed to occur, which helped the students who had been blocked by other students from attending class, or who had been disrupted by protesters during class, to return to their normal academic life.

We might ask now what exactly are the factors that lead to rioting and how are riots dispelled so that order and safety can be reinstated?  These are questions worth understanding since in 2012 alone about 40 riots have already occurred (in the span of less than ten months), all of which led to arrests, injuries, or deaths.  The first requirement is for there to be a group of protesters who can all unanimously decide on when to riot, and subsequently, all follow through with it.  We can simplify this statement using game theory.  If a group of people are all waiting on someone else to start a riot (because if they start it and no one follows they are easy to spot and can be arrested quite swiftly) at what point does the full group agree to start the riot together and actually follow through before anyone backs out? There is no simple equilibrium here which results in a riot (because why would equilibrium bring chaos?) since the safest option for each member is to stay out of the riot and just wait.

In order to push people willingly into wanting to riot, there needs to be a situation which encourages them that the cost of rioting is lesser than the benefit of changing the tense situation in their favor.  This seems to be a small barrier, since if it weren’t for a tense situation then this whole rioting business would not come into play.  The basic requirement would be that the tense situation needs to effect a lot of people.  In this case, the tuition raises effected at least the 250,000 students who joined the protests.  On September 20th (just six days ago) the tuition raises were shot down by Parti Quebecois during its first cabinet meeting, which was held on Premier Pauline Marois’ first day in office.  Finally a riot is most successful when protesters can expect a weak police response, because this gives the riot time to develop and become large enough so that the protest can overcome police resistance when it does occur.  This strategy favors a quick start to a riot as opposed to a slow buildup of people.  It seems then that the best way to limit rioting is for those in power (the government) to put more effort into communicating with their people so that citizens are given other options to rioting.  If the populace feels that there is a safer option, one which poses no danger to them but gives them the positive payoff of having their needs met, than this option will be the strongest response for people to choose.

Communication is key Folks.



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