Barry Goldwater’s wisdom

June 1, 2011

“You don’t have to be straight to be in the military; you just have to be able to shoot straight.”

“When you say ‘radical right’ today, I think of these moneymaking ventures by fellows like Pat Robertson and others who are trying to take the Republican party and make a religious organization out of it. If that ever happens, kiss politics goodbye.”

–Barry Goldwater, “Mr. Conservative”, father of the modern conservative movement in the United States.

The political positions held by the Democratic and Republican parties in today’s modern America are fiscally and socially center-left, and fiscally and socially center-right, respectively. In recent years, the Republican party has probably abandoned its “center-right” status for sharper political positions and rhetoric. But that’s not important.

Two things are astounding to me. Firstly, the gradual alienation of Goldwater from the movement he himself precipitated (Reagan rose to prominence during Goldwater’s failed ’64 presidential campaign) because of the clash of the Religious Right and Goldwater’s libertarian views, and a statistic that I came across the other day:

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Politics and “Chicken”

May 24, 2011

Game theory, for all of its hype, isn’t all that great at telling us what to do in real life. When Morgenstern and von Neumann originally published the magnus opus of game theory, Theory of Games and Economic Behavior, one buyer falsely got his hopes up in believing that it might help him manipulate the stock market. Others expressed scorn at the field’s shortcomings and distance from application – game theory could conveniently prove already intuitive results, but it couldn’t tell us how to win at chess.

Despite the fact that game theory is not a panacea for the world’s economic problems, it can still be extremely useful. The telecom auction in the 1990’s, designed by game theorists, saved the US and UK public billions of dollars (a cumulated 35 billion, to be exact). The powerful notion of a Nash equilibrium in multiplayer-games helps break out of the self-referential “I think that-my opponent thinks that-I think that-my opponent thinks that …” infinite loop and identify natural strategies in non-cooperative games.

However, there are many two-player games in which the Nash equilibrium is not a useful concept, because a particular game might have two of them. The famous example is prisoner’s dilemma (read more here: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/prisoner-dilemma/). Another example is highway chicken:

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