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I've been reading Resilience:  Why Things Bounce Back by Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy (NY:  Free Press, 2012 ISBN 978-1-4516-8380-6) and came across a description of a variation of the Tit for Tat strategy in the Prisoner's Dilemma game called Discriminatory Tit for Tat (DTFT) which seems to describe the recent and current political impasse in Washington DC.

They [game theorists Steve Rytina and David L. Morgan] watched what happened when members of each tribe followed a variant called Discriminatory Tit for Tat (DFTFT), which is just like Tit for Tat except when dealing with someone of a different-color group.  A Red will always defect with a Blue, and vice versa.
A Red will cooperate with a Red and a Blue will cooperate with a Blue but Reds and Blues will never cooperate with each.  Sound familiar?

What piqued my interest even more is their finding:

Rytina and Morgan demonstrated that the DTFT game play is not only stable, it's all but intractable.  In the early rounds, an individual who tries to play regular, color-blind Tit for Tat is worse off than one who defects with the out-group.  Why?  When a Red and Blue interact for the first time, even if the Blue contemplates cooperating (as in regular Tit for Tat), the Red player will almost certainly be playing DTFT and will defect.  That means that the Blue player - only trying to start off nice - will get the sucker payoff and lose points.
DTFT is not a more successful strategy than regular Tit for Tat, which is better for long-term resilience, and tends to penalize the minority more than the majority (unless the majority continues to expect regular Tit for Tat no matter how many times it is faced with evidence to the contrary).  
The problem with DTFT is in its insidious stability.  Once it is entrenched, it punishes individual efforts to attempt cooperation across enemy lines.
I've emailed Steve Rytina to find out whether any game theorists have written about DTFT in relation to the present situation in DC or figured out a way out of its "insidious stability."

Poll

Are DC pols locked in a discriminatory tit for tat game?

42%3 votes
0%0 votes
0%0 votes
28%2 votes
0%0 votes
14%1 votes
14%1 votes
0%0 votes

| 7 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (6+ / 0-)

    Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at solarray.

    by gmoke on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 01:39:37 PM PST

  •  You need a "hell yes" option on your poll. n/t (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gmoke, hnichols

    "I speak the truth, not as much as I would, but as much as I dare, and I dare a little the more, as I grow older." --Montaigne

    by DrLori on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 01:59:26 PM PST

  •  not quite a fair comparison (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gmoke

    In a classic iterated PD game, the assumption is that initially you don't know anything about your opponent. In this case, the player would not know whether their opponent is Red or Blue. After the first iteration, the players acquire knowledge that they can use for the next round. In those conditions, TFT wins all other strategies.

    The DTFT strategy allows players to know something about the opponent before they play the first round and so obviously a discriminating strategy will be superior to TFT when played that way.

    TFT is mainly a simplified thought experiment, used to explain how cooperation can exist when selfishness seems like the better payoff in the short run.

    This doesn't detract from your main point though: the DTFT strategy expands the game to allow pre-assessment (which is obviously more realistic in some cases) and shows how a simple change in the rules can lead to a very different strategy winning.

    I'd add that DTFT, and tribalism in general, seem to me to be really just extensions of kin selection, or "help your relatives", which is the most basic helping strategy of all.

    "I don't cry over milk spilled under bridges. I go make lemonade" - Bucky Katt

    by quill on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 02:18:00 PM PST

    •  Please Expand (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      quill

      I don't understand why you think this is "not quite a fair comparison."  I know Prisoner's Dilemma is a thought experiment and a simplification of real public decision-making.  However, I found the similarities between the DTFT strategy and today's maneuverings in DC immediately recognizable.  

      What do you think are specifically the ways the comparison falls down?

      From what I've read, DTFT is not superior to TFT in the long-term and, perhaps, not even in the short-term.  My prime focus is on the intractability of the tactic once it's put in place.  Is there something game theory can teach us about getting out such an intractable dilemma?

      Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at solarray.

      by gmoke on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 02:30:58 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  The rules have changed (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        gmoke

        I was trying to say that, in theoretical modeling terms, the game where DTFT can exist is different from the one where TFT wins. The rules have changed a bit and give advantage to DTFT. That's why it isn't a fair comparison - in the context of a simple model.

        In terms of real-life, you are right: it doesn't make sense to keep playing TFT when you know your opponent will defect.

        Actually, now that I think of it, Obama isn't actually using a TFT strategy. If he was, he would have lost the first of his many battles with the Republicans, and then fought them with no concessions in every battle thereafter. But he hasn't done that. Instead, he appears to be using an "always cooperate" strategy.

        It may seem stupid to us BUT, that assumes that Obama views the outcomes of these battles as losses. I think that he does not. I think that he is a moderate conservative and he wants to have policy outcomes that align with the results of many of these fights.

        If anyone is being dumb here, it is us liberals, who seem unable to learn and correct our behavior when one of our own sells us down the river (defects), repeatedly.

        "I don't cry over milk spilled under bridges. I go make lemonade" - Bucky Katt

        by quill on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 03:25:40 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  forgot to mention the important bit (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gmoke

    YES, if you KNOW that your opponent will defect on you (i.e., be assholes, take your lunch, etc) no matter what, then obviously you should not be nice!!

    "I don't cry over milk spilled under bridges. I go make lemonade" - Bucky Katt

    by quill on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 02:21:58 PM PST

    •  Obama Hasn't Learned That Lesson (0+ / 0-)

      It seems from his actions that Obama is playing TFT against DTFT.  Again and again and again.  He never learns that the Repugs will defect no matter what.  He isn't even playing two tits for one tat, another strategy in the Prisoner's Dilemma, it seems to me.

      Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at solarray.

      by gmoke on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 02:33:02 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  you assume he perceives this as losing (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        gmoke

        From our perspective, it seems like Obama is losing again and again, but that assumes that his payoff in this "game" is the same as ours. It isn't necessarily so.

        "I don't cry over milk spilled under bridges. I go make lemonade" - Bucky Katt

        by quill on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 03:02:12 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Agreed (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          quill

          This very well could be, and increasingly seems to be, rope-a-dope, where we, the people are the dopes:

          "The real owners, the big wealthy business interests that control things and make all the important decisions. Forget the politicians. The politicians are put there to give you the idea that you have freedom of choice. You don't. You have owners. ...

          "They want obedient workers. People who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork and just dumb enough to passively accept these increasingly shitty jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, the reduced benefits, the end of overtime and the vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it. And now they're coming for your Social Security money. They want your retirement money. They want it back so they can give it to their criminal friends on Wall Street."

          Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at solarray.

          by gmoke on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 03:10:38 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Carlin is my guru (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            gmoke

            Many of life's harder lessons can be learned by attending to George Carlin's words. Unfortunately, most people can't handle the truth, and so we go round and round.

            About Game Theory: I think there is a place for these simple games in explaining to people how politics (and people) works.  Thanks.

            "I don't cry over milk spilled under bridges. I go make lemonade" - Bucky Katt

            by quill on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 03:33:07 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

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