Archive for the ‘game theory’ Category
Right now, Senate Democrats have a choice, they can vote to confirm Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch or reject. This choice is complex:
- How desirable is this individual nominee?
- How desirable is it to filibuster this individual nominee, even if he is desirable?
- How desirable is it to punish Republicans for not holding a vote on Merrick Garland?
I think these issues are subtle and interdependent. For example, it is unclear whether Trump would nominate another Scalia type jurist, who is very conservative but does show some degree of independence. Thus, this may be “as good as it gets.”
However, voting in favor of Gorsuch, or simply not filibustering, raises a number of issues for Democrats. First, it essentially confirms a new norm in the Senate. If the President and Senate are from different parties, the Senate can deny the President the power to appoint any Supreme Court justices. This is a real shift. Technically, the power granted by the Constitution is “advise and consent,” not complete denial. Second, allowing the Gorsuch nomination to proceed without a major fight will probably inflame the base. The Democratic base could reasonably ask why Republicans are happy to filibuster and Democrats not so much.
My prediction is that Senate Democrats will allow Gorsuch to be nominated without much fuss because Democratic primary voters won’t punish them. The Democratic base seems to be very ineffective when it comes to punishing deviant behavior. Thus, the marginal Senate Democrat will probably focus more on general election voters in swing states.
In game theory, the “chicken game” involves two people, a clock and a deadline. The first person to blink loses the game. But if the players reach deadline before anyone blinks, they both die. If they both blink, they get to tie. The GOP race has now entered the chicken game phase.
Currently, the major issue is that by consistently getting about 30%+ of the Republican vote, Trump wins states so long as the remaining two major contenders, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, keep splitting the anti-Trump vote. If either drops out, Trump wins. The first to drop allows the other to win second place and be the front runner in a future nomination contest.
Anecdotally, neither seems to be looking into dropping. Cruz is the sort of person who alienates people as he wins. Thus, if he drops out, he’s unlikely to be tapped by party leaders for a second run. Rubio is the remaining establishment choice. If he drops and lets Cruz surge to a strong second place, another person will be picked to be the establishment guy in the next cycle. So both want to stay in as long as possible.
Add your predictions in the comments.
This part of the book forum is about Ivan Ermakoff’s theory of collective abdication. It’s a little complicated, so bear with me. First, in analyzing the March 1933 vote in Germany or the 1940 vote in France, Ermakoff rejects the views that it was simply a matter of external pressure or “defecting” to the bad side. In his reading of events, people were able to resist and they were not Nazis or sympathizers. And of course, if you are afraid of Nazi retaliation, giving them unlimited power would not solve the problem. He also rejects the view that it was a matter of political incompetence. Perhaps, some historians have argued, German and French legislators simply underestimated how bad the Nazis were going to be. In reading the original source materials, Ermakoff finds plenty evidence to the contrary. At the very least, the main actors in the story were highly skilled politicians and many knew exactly what might happen.
So what does Ermakoff propose? Roughly speaking, he argues that authoritarian challenges can result in abdication when the challenge effectively dissolves pre-existing social structures, which then allows for a re-alignment that the challenger can shape. The result is that the re-alignment can inflate the support for the challenger as people try to infer what other people think and mistakenly acquiesce because they think others are doing so.
To help understand this theory, let’s choose the example of a large academic humanities department, with, say 50 professors. Then let’s assume hurricane Katrina hits and its hard for people to come to work or otherwise communicate normally. All of a sudden, the Dean shows up and demands that the department become a new data science program and that you have to vote on it right now. A lot of people don’t know what to do and normal communication is no longer an option. So people look at each other and see that there is a pretty set group of people who like the Dean’s proposal. Little by little, people move to the Dean’s proposal and the English department switches to being a humanities data science program.
Ermakoff shows (in a technical appendix) that as long as you have a not tiny faction of people who agree with the dean and people are trying to coordinate with each other, you can get a lot of people to switch. In other words, when people deliberate on extremely high risk activities, they try coordinate with each other in a number of ways. Such forms of coordination in the absence of normal constraints can result in allowing the challenger to win. It’s an interesting argument in that it combines a social psychology explanation (people look to each other for meaning) and embeds it inside a nested game.
Ruling Oneself Out by Ivan Ermakoff is a book that should of had a different title. In my view, the book should have been called “When Regimes Just Give Up and Die.” This important book speaks to a political process that direly needs more attention in both politics and sociology: turning points in history when one political order simply surrenders in the face of a challenger.
The book has two layers. One layer is a close reading of two examples of political abdication – the 1933 vote in Germany to give Hitler virtually unlimited powers and the 1940 decision by the French government to transfer authority to Petain.
The second layer is an insanely ambitious attempt to reconstruct how sociologists approach historical explanations. Ermakoff presents a theory of political abdication that combines the following elements: (a) an analysis of how political groups lose cohesion in the face of threat, (b) a game theoretical analysis of how groups under threat reform themselves, and (c) a criticism of other accounts of this process. So rather than throw all explanation to historical accident, Ermakoff tries to tease out how people surrender given their historically contingent self-understanding and their incentives. Think of it as historical explanation that is part phenomonology and part rational choice.
For the next two days, I will review these layers and then wrap up with a discussion of Ermakoff’s recent ASR article that presents a more extensive theory of historical contingency.
Yesterday, I described a paper written by Kirby Schroeder and my self on infection networks. Yesterday’s post addresses the professional lessons I learned. Today, I want to talk about the impact of the paper on current work. For a long time, the paper, literally, got zero citations in peer reviewed journals. Then, the citations increased around 2010, with people in economics, health, and biology discussing the paper.
Economics: The main commentary among economists is that this is a model of interaction, which can then be used to assess the impact of policy. For example, a paper in the American Law and Economics Review notes that the paper models risky behavior but does not model the law. Other economists are attracted to our prediction about infection knowledge and epidemic plateaus (once the disease becomes common knowledge, people shift behavior and transmission stalls).
Health: The Archives of Sexual Behavior has an article that discusses our article in the context of trying to expand models of disease transmission. For example, we critique the health belief model for ignoring interaction. We criticize sexual scripting theory for ignoring risk and strategic action.
Biology: Perhaps the most interesting impact of the paper is the impact on mathematical biology. In The Journal of Theoretical Biology, a team of mathematicians use the model to address group formation. In a model derived from our Risky Sex Game model, they show that the population, under certain conditions, will separate into specific groups based on HIV status.
Bottom line: People sure hated the paper when I wrote it, but its children are a joy to behold.