Some thoughts about Trump’s press conference with Putin, as opposed to the G7 and NATO meetings, from a game-theoretic perspective. Yes, it’s time for some (more) game theory!
Axelrod, in The Evolution of Cooperation, shows that there are several strategies that one can use in the iterated prisoner’s dilemma (IPD), and that these strategies vary by the amount of contact expected in the future. If none or very little future interaction is expected, then it pays to DEFECT, which basically means to screw your opponent.
If, on the other hand, there is an expectation of extensive future contact, the best strategy is some form of TIT-FOR-TAT, which means that you start by cooperating with your opponent, but if they defect, then you match that defection with their own. If they cooperate, then you match that as well.
This turns out to be a simple, clear strategy that rewards cooperative behavior and punishes jerks. It is powerful enough that a small cluster of TIT-FOR-TAT can invade a population of ALL_DEFECT. It has some weaknesses as well. We’ll get to that later.
Donald Trump, in the vast majority of his interactions has presented an ALL_DEFECT strategy. That actually can make sense in the world of real-estate, where there are lots of players that perform similar roles and bankruptcy protections exist.
But with Russia in general and Putin in particular, Trump is very cooperative. Why is this case different?
It turns out that after four bankruptcies (1991, 1992, 2004 and 2009) it became impossible for Trump to get loans through traditional channels. In essence, he had defected on enough banks that the well was poisoned.
As the ability to get loans decreased, the amount of cash sales to Russian oligarchs increased. About $109 million were spent purchasing Trump-branded properties from 2003 – 2017, according to MccLatchy. Remember that TIT-FOR-TAT can win over ALL_DEFECT if there is prolonged interaction. Fourteen years is a long time to train someone.
There are two cognitively easy strategies in the IPD – ALL_DEFECT, and ALL_COOPERATE. I think that once Trump tried defection a few times and got punished for it he went the other way with the Russians. My guess is that they have a whole team of people working on how to keep him there.
Which is why, at every turn, Trump cooperates. He knows what will happen if he doesn’t, and frankly, it’s less work than any of the other alternatives. And if you really only care for yourself, that’s a perfectly reasonable place to be.
7:00 – ASRC MKT
- Still can’t connect to the Service center (Betriebsdienst Zentrum) at Zurich U. Tried pinging the conference organizer, who appears to be based on the campus
- Travel report for SASO
- Hotel in Trento
- Ping Aaron M. about Doodle
- Start on slides