Game Theory

Game Theory, Systems Philosophy and Swedish Coffee

By Matt Johnson

As a systems scientist, I prefer to use game theory as an explanation and description for why people, groups of people, business firms, and institutions make the decisions they do and behave they way the do. Why do I take this position and thus hold this perspective and philosophy? My reasoning is rather simple and scientific.

Matt Johnson, Author of Urban Dynamics and Systems Scientist

Matt Johnson, Author of Urban Dynamics and Systems Scientist

According to the Library of Economics and Liberty, “Game theory is the science of strategy. It attempts to determine mathematically and logically the actions that ‘players’ should take to secure the best outcomes for themselves in a wide array of ‘games.'” What exactly does this mean?

In laymen’s terms it means that people, groups, and institutions compete or cooperate with each other for resources. An example of these resources in the urban environment would be economic, political, and social capital, and natural resources like land, waterways, and attractive settings. How many depressed urban areas do you know of that reside around a lake or a creek?

When people, groups of people, and institutions, including business firms, compete against each other or cooperate with one another, they will make the best decisions for themselves and their own group. These decisions in game theory are called best responses.

Sometimes these best responses will be the same best responses and hence the system between the groups will be in equilibrium. This is called cooperation. However, sometimes these best responses will be different from one another, and thus the respective groups will be in conflict. This is called competition.

There are many examples of people and groups competing or cooperating ranging from before antiquity through contemporary history that can be used to illustrate human behavior through game theory. And this is why game theory is such a powerful tool kit. Instead of ideas such as race and racism, which aren’t even accepted as scientific or scientifically measurable hypotheses, game theory can provide analytical and mathematical model options for those interested in why “black” populations in the United States are disproportionately affected by policy decisions at the local, state, and federal levels of government.

Game theory can help explain why “white” groups are obtaining higher levels of education, median household incomes, and wealth. It can also help explain why unemployment rates are higher for “black” groups and populations; whereas, unemployment rates are lower for “white” groups and populations. And the reason why it has this power of description is precisely because of analysis, mathematics, and behavioral economics.

Game theory as a component of systems science can provide repeatable experiments that are applicable to all human members and environments, not just United States citizens. In other words, if we are to accept the approximate truth of human evolution as a scientific theory, then all members and groups of the species contain the propensity to be prejudice, xenophobic, or “game” one another. No one group has a monopoly on oppression, prejudice, or xenophobia.

Now of course some, if not many, sociologists, social scientists, and social theorists, and philosophers would disagree with me on some of these points. That’s fine with me. I expect there to be discourse and disagreement. However, I assert going forward that game theoretical models in conjunction with systems models and analysis will allow for a more substantive and non-contentious political and social conversation and exploration in regards to finding solutions for systemic discrepancies and anomalies. I assert that my bag of tools and models will be able to address those systemic discrepancies and anomalies. Why? It’s science and mathematics. It’s not my opion. My opinion is that Swedish coffee is the best coffee.

For further reading on this subject, I invite you to read Patterns of the 5th Ward: “Race”Patterns of the 12th Ward: “Race”, and  Naked Thursdays: Race and Truth.

Remember, you are always welcome to post your comments, thoughts, and questions below. Feedback is always appreciated.


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