Donald Trump Game Theorist

Kevin Drum’s latest rumination on Donald Trump reveals “an odd quirk in Trump’s personality”:

He seems to have an ironclad rule against ever attacking someone first. Even Vladimir Putin. Putin says nice things about Trump, so Trump has to say nice things back. Opposing candidates who don’t attack him are “great guys.” But if you attack first, then he has to fire off a nuclear retaliation. There’s an odd kind of chivalry at work here, and I suppose it also provides people with a motivation to leave him alone.

Actually, this is one of the few things that isn’t odd about Trump. Social scientist and game theorists will recognize this ‘quirk’ immediately as the ‘tit for tat’ strategy that Robert Axelrod famously showed was the winning strategy for multiple iterations of the Prisoner’s Dilemma in his book The Evolution of Cooperation.

It seems sensible to think of most political mud-slinging as being suitable to modeling as a Prisoner’s Dilemma game: both sides sling dirt, both sides lose. (There are rare exceptions, such as when Nixon got Johnston to attack him, thus cementing Nixon’s role as the front runner for the 1968 GOP nomination, but those are rare.)

So at least when it comes to invective, Trump appears to be a natural game theorist.

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