Game theory & the (not quite) Mexican standoff

March 24, 2014 Comments off

Somebody on the internet asked about the game theory of a mexican standoff (he meant two people pointing guns at each other) and why both players don’t just shoot immediately. I got a bit carried away with my response, which turned into this 4000 word mini-thesis. 


If shooting first was guaranteed to kill the other person, and that is something that you want to do, then you would be right. But most gunshot victims don’t die… so let’s re-think the game with a hypothetical payoff matrix. Assume two players {Robert; Dermot} with two strategies {shoot; smile}.

We’ll make the simplifying assumption (for now) that both have the same preferences and skills. If both smile then they walk away from the conflict, go home and party. Their payoff is (5, 5). If they both shoot, then both get hurt (sad -8) but they both get to hurt the other person (happy +10)… so the net payoff is (2, 2). If one person shoots, then the shooter smites his enemy and gets a benefit of 10… well done that man. The poor schmuck who was shot gets hurt (sad -8) which is the worst of all worlds for him, and it leaves him a broken man. Hollow. Dejected. Just an empty hole where his soul once existed.

Read more…

Asia Liberty Forum 2014

January 11, 2014 Comments off

Three years ago, at the age of 19, Chanyang Ju escaped the North Korean regime and started her new life as a free woman in South Korea. On the last night of the 2014 Asia Liberty Forum, Chanyang spoke to us about her experience, life in North Korea and the importance of controlling her own life. She is in the middle of the picture below.


This was just one of the many great talks that we had over two and a half days of lively discussion, debate, and networking with old and new friends. Over 200 people came from over 30 countries to hear from distinguished intellectuals, effective activists and community leaders.

The conference started with an inspiring talk by successful Indian businessman and author Gurcharan Das, who spoke about the “dharma of capitalism”. In Hinduism, “dharma” means the duty to act with honesty and decency towards others, and Das pointed out that the duty of dharma is at the core of a lot of everyday transactions, such as catching a taxi without first signing a contract.

Other academic talks included Professor John Tomasi (Brown) talking about free market fairness, Professor Feng Xingyuan (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences) discussing the importance of enterprise in economic development, and Professor Razeen Sally (NUS) explaining the economic evolution within Asia. And of course the wandering libertarian polymath Tom Palmer, who manages to show up at all the best freedom events around the world.


We also learnt about the success of think-tanks around the world, with talks from Parth Shah (India), Peter Wong (Hong Kong), Kris Mauren (USA), Rainer Heufers (Singapore), Sonam Tashi (Bhutan),Wan Saiful (Malaysia), Medeni Sungur (Turkey) and other inspiring liberal leaders. There was also a popular session on women in liberty, including infamous trouble-maker Baishali Bomjan (India) as well as Arpita Nepal (Nepal), Cindy Cerquitella (USA), Li Schoolland (USA & China), and Tricia Yeoh (Malaysia).

On the lighter side, after the Azadi journalism awards we had several excellent performances from conference participants, including Russian Opera singing from Pavel Koktyshev (Kazakstan), rapping by Casey Lartigue (USA & Korea), singing from Chanyang Ju (Korea) and the awesome oddity of Sadaf Hussein’s strange sounds. We also enjoyed learning more from dozens of activists during speed networking, and listening to spontaneous sessions, coordinated by the always interesting Andrew Humphries.

More than just an academic conference, the 2014 ALF was a coming together of open-minded and kind-hearted people from around the world in a spirit of tolerance and learning. The Asia Liberty Forum is now established as one of the “must do” events on the libertarian calendar. I look forward to going back next year, and you should come too.

Categories: Fun Tags:

Are objectivists a type of anarchist?

December 17, 2013 2 comments

There is an apparent contradiction at the heart of objectivism. Ayn Rand said that she opposed the initiation of coercion/violence, but she also rejected anarchism and insisted on having a government… which is defined as an institution that has a geographical monopoly over the initiation of violence/coercion.

That doesn’t add up. Either objectivists accept a government, and then they accept the initiation of some violence/coercion in some circumstances. Or they don’t want a government, which makes them anarchists. Those options are mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive; there is no other option.

Given the vehemence of Rand’s opposition to anarchy, I had previously thought that objectivists accepted government and that they were confused about the whole coercion thing. But in a debate this evening it seemed that my objectivist sparing partner was inadvertently advocating for no government (anarchy)… but with the assumption that people would voluntarily give money to a security provider that would protect everybody. The idea is that this benevolent non-profit donor-funded security provider would be called “government”, despite not initiating violence or coercion.

If this is accurate, then there are two consequences. First, semantics notwithstanding, a benevolent non-profit donor-funded security provider is not actually a government and it is totally consistent with anarchy — so such a position is really just another type of hyphenated-anarchy with a particular vision of how a free society might function. Second, it seems to me that the above approach to security provision is very reliant on the benevolence of one organisation and the people who will donate to that organisation, which means it is actually less stable than the system suggested by other market anarchists.

What do you say objectivists… are you secret anarchists living in denial, or are you people who oppose coercion all the time except for when you don’t? 

No need for a hyphen in anarchy

December 17, 2013 1 comment

Anarchy is a political philosophy, which answers the question of “what is the role of government” with the answer “nothing”. If you have no government, there is no scope for disagreeing about what the non-existent government should do.

There will still be plenty of disagreement about what should happen in society. Some people might choose to join socialist communes, or religious communities, or trading towns, or live as hermits, or whatever other options you can imagine. We can pontificate about what trends might be popular and we can argue about which community will be best… but these are not discussions of political philosophy. They are the equivalent of arguing about the best way a baker should bake bread. The beauty of anarchy is if we disagree about how to live, we can simply go our separate ways and voluntarily join different communities (or bakeries).

Therefore, hyphenated-anarchy is unnecessary. Whether a person self-describes as anarcho-communist, anarcho-syndicalist, anarcho-capitalist, anarcho-monarchist, etc… as long as the person actually is an anarchist, then these are not differences of political philosophy. They might describe personal preferences or predictions about the future, but they do not describe a disagreement about the role of government.

Read more…

Is Zimbabwe a police state?

October 30, 2013 5 comments

In Zimbabwe, the police have the power to detain somebody without charge or questioning, the government is able to overrule the judiciary, small crimes like drug possession or dangerous driving are punishable with over 20 years in jail, freedom of assembly and association are restricted, free speech is stifled as outspoken people can be taken to court for saying peaceful but “wrong” comments, subsections of society are banned from certain jobs, the internet is censored, the right to silence has been removed, and the government is involved in surveillance programs against their own citizens that sound like they come directly from 1984.

The system in Zimbabwe is still democratic, with regular elections and an active opposition. But the steady growth in government/police powers and the erosion of civil liberties have led some observers to describe Zimbabwe as a “police state”.

Not everybody agrees.

Some people in Zimbabwe have dismissed the idea of a police state as silly fear-mongering from the radical fringe. They argue that the expanded police and government powers are necessary to keep ordinary people safe. These loyalists point out that the government and police do not intend to abuse their powers, innocent people have nothing to fear, and that people complaining are simply defending criminals. Most Zimbabweans seem to agree with the loyalists and support the “tough on crime” policies.

From an outsiders perspective it is hard to know what conclusions to draw. It seems clear enough that Zimbabwe has abandoned the traditional checks and balances of liberal democracy, and have placed their faith in arbitrary power and super-strict sentencing. But is this a bad thing? Just because the government and police have suspended privacy and civil liberties, does that necessarily mean that Zimbabwe is a police state? From the outside it is easy to judge and criticise Zimbabwe for their strict policies… but perhaps they have found the right balance?

Before we judge countries like Zimbabwe for having authoritarian policies, perhaps we should try some of them in Australia to see if they work. What could go wrong?

Libertarian heading for the Senate

September 14, 2013 2 comments

In the 2012 American Presidential election, one of the side stories was the unlikely campaign of the libertarian-Republican Ron Paul, who brought a new brand of politics to the country by advocating significantly smaller government, personal freedoms, and peace. He was ultimately unsuccessful, but his brand of politics is having an ongoing impact on political debate. In America, his son is now a leading Senator and contender for 2016 President. And in Australia on the weekend the people of NSW elected a libertarian to the Australian Senate in the form of David Leyonhjelm from the Liberal Democrats.

A lot has been written and said about this unlikely outcome, and one or two things were even true. Pretty good for the mainstream media.

The discussion about the Liberal Democrats on ABC’s “the drum” TV show was particularly hilarious. Beyond the words “hello” it was hard to find any comment that wasn’t laughably, embarrassingly wrong. One commentator said that Leyonhjelm chose the name of the party because it sounded serious, but the party was started in 2001 and Leyonhjelm  joined in 2006. The reason for the name has been repeatedly explained — the Liberal Democrats believe in liberal democracy and wanted to portray that in the name. The AEC and all reasonable people don’t think that the Liberals should be able to claim a monopoly on a generic political word, especially when it isn’t even true in their case. If somebody wants to vote for liberalism, then the Liberal Democrats offers them that choice.

Another witless commentator said that Glenn Druery arranged front parties to funnel preferences to the Liberal Democrats in 1999… two years before the Liberal Democrats was even started. Fail. In fact, the Liberal Democrats were one of the only small parties that were excluded from the Druery coalition this year. Are facts even vaguely relevant for the ABC chatterati?

Read more…

Senate voting reform

September 11, 2013 Comments off

With the possible Senate victory of the Motoring Enthusiasts on 0.5% of the vote, and the Sports Party on 0.2% of the vote, there has been a growing call for reform to the way that we vote. One of the more sensible suggestions doing the rounds is that people should have more control over their preferences, for example by being able to preference parties “above the line” on the Senate ballot paper. Perhaps. That is certainly something that should be considered.

Another idea being promoted is that small parties should be required to achieve 4% or 5% of the vote before they are allowed to sit in parliament. The rationale is that unless a party can show they have serious public support, then they shouldn’t be there representing the public. This argument fails for two reasons.

First, there are 226 people in the federal parliament, meaning that each politician makes up 0.44% of the total. The idea that a party doesn’t deserve 0.44% of representation because they only get 3% of the vote is an absurd example of Orwellian double-talk. If we are to exclude the micro parties, then the 15% of people who prefer those options will be represented by nobody, while all the big parties will be over-represented.

Second, by making the 1% and 2% parties irrelevant it becomes much harder for those small parties to ever grow into bigger parties, creating political stagnation. The system will be limited to the current big parties, only interrupted by an occasional billionaire. The Greens currently get about 8% of the vote, but go back 20 years and they were a 2% party. Their occasional successes helped them to build a profile and grow, and provide more political diversity.

The Senate system is certainly strange, and it’s reasonable to look at reforms that help make preferences more transparent. Or better yet, the new parliament should re-think our absurd attachment to compulsory voting. Forcing people to vote devalues the voice of people who carefully consider their vote, annoys people who don’t care, leads to lower quality public policy debates as parties appeal for the all-valuable ignorant vote, ensures that some segments of the voting public can be taken for granted, results in many informal and donkey and joke and random votes, while being a pointless infringement on free choice. For no benefit.

If we are going to reconsider the way we vote in Australia, voluntary should be on the table… but having an arbitrary cut-off that biases the system against small parties should be an absolute non-starter.




Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 363 other followers