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Game Theory and Civil Disobedience in Hong Kong

Right now in Hong Kong, there are thousands of civilians occupying the busiest boulevards of the normally bustling city. They are demanding democratic elections and the immediate resignation of Leung Chun-Ying. The article below describes the current situation.

By translating this scenario into a game, we can try and predict the outcome:

2 Players: Civilians and Government

2 Decisions: Fight or Give Up

The scenario forms a payoff matrix extremely similar to that of the Hawk-Dove Game. Currently, both the Civilians and Government are playing “Hawk.” Neither of them have a positive payoff and are counting on the opposing side to switch to “Dove” before they starve. Similarly to the Hawk-Dove Game, there are two equilibria and thus, no clear winner.

However, the article above states three factors that might indicate that the payoff matrix is going to change soon (in the civilians favor).

1. The riot police’s use of tear gas and pepper spray has been unsuccessful

2. The protesters plan to increase the severity of their protests

3. Media and scrutiny prevent the government from “cracking down” on this protest

These factors will change the payoff matrix of the game and make the Government’s payoff much lower than the current situation.

I think that it would be reasonable to conclude that (unless something extreme occurs) Hong Kong government will eventually give up and allow democratic elections since the civilians can keep increasing the severity of their protests until they alter the payoff matrix in such a way that Giving Up will be the Government’s dominant response.



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September 2014