Applying game theory to revolution
Tim Harford AKA Undercover Economist is back blogging, and the revolution wave in MENA has got him thinking about how game theory applies. A taste:
...mass protests are fragile and revolutionary crowds must extract concessions before their moment passes.Read it all.
What kind of concessions should protesters look for? According to the economists Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, who have built a detailed series of game-theoretic models of political transition, the answer is: ones that cannot be easily undone. Tunisia’s Ben Ali will surely not return, but already activists are concerned that democratic reforms may not be entrenched, and have returned to the streets to protest. Mubarak may be Egypt’s past, but Egypt’s future is unclear.
A fresh constitution, civil rights, and credible elections are all ways of safeguarding the gains so far. The revolutionary protesters are right to insist on them; it would hardly be a surprise to see feet being dragged by those who profited from the status quo.
It is intriguing to view events in the Middle East through this game-theoretic lens. For example, Saudi Arabia’s “royal gift” of $35bn does not seem to have satisfied activists in the kingdom. That makes sense: gifts can be withdrawn. If a dictatorial government can vent the revolutionary head of steam for a while, then the momentum for reform may be dissipated for many years – especially if the ringleaders are rounded up while all is quiet.
But by the same token this issue of credible reform can give further impetus to a revolution. As I write, Gaddafi is still in Tripoli and seems willing to stop at nothing. Yet his courageous opponents are now committed, too: they know that nobody is going to get away with giving the Libyan dictator a bloody nose and then asking for a school-building programme.