Category: Games

Vance isn’t sure if this article is a parody or not

Emotions are running high in the Northbrae area of Berkeley, and the friendly spirit of the neighborhood is at stake, according to a number of small merchants who are afraid they will not survive in the wake of what is being perceived as aggressive marketing strategies at Monterey Market.

Several small businesses say the owners of Monterey Market have begun to deliberately stock items that they specialize in — including certain cheeses, wine and flowers — and they are selling them at predatory prices, which threatens the local merchants’ livelihoods.

A group of Northbrae neighbors has distributed a hand-out in support of the small local merchants in which it criticizes Monterey’s approach. ”We are making a moral and ethical appeal,” said Tom Meyer, speaking for the group. Signatories on the hand-out include Monterey Fish, Gioa Pizzeria, Hopkins Launderette, and Storey Framing. (See the hand-out here.)

…Meyer said that recently the group had been approached by a representative of Monterey Market to set up a meeting. “That discussion will determine where we go from here,” he said.

Asked what he expected from the Market, Meyer said: “They should talk to their fellow merchants about how they could all flourish.”

The story — if that’s what it is and I believe it is — is here.  The caption on the photo reads: “Shirley Ng, owner of Country Cheese Coffee Market, says Monterey Market is under-cutting her prices.”

Kasparov on meta-rationality, the longer article is on Bobby Fischer

Many strong chess players go on to successful careers as currency and stock traders, so I suppose there is considerable crossover in the pattern-matching and intuitive calculation skills required. But the aptitude for playing chess is nothing more than that. My argument has always been that what you learn from using the skills you have—analyzing your strengths and weaknesses—is far more important. If you can program yourself to learn from your experiences by assiduously reviewing what worked and what did not, and why, success in chess can be very valuable indeed. In this way, the game has taught me a great deal about my own decision-making processes that is applicable in other areas, but that effort has little to do with natural gifts.

Read the whole thing.  A related point is that chess players cannot make many excuses when they lose.  “The sun got in my eyes” doesn’t cut it.

Morgan Kelly writes from Ireland

The IMF, which believes that lenders should pay for their stupidity before it has to reach into its pocket, presented the Irish with a plan to haircut €30 billion of unguaranteed bonds by two-thirds on average. Lenihan was overjoyed, according to a source who was there, telling the IMF team: “You are Ireland’s salvation.”

The deal was torpedoed from an unexpected direction. At a conference call with the G7 finance ministers, the haircut was vetoed by US treasury secretary Timothy Geithner who, as his payment of $13 billion from government-owned AIG to Goldman Sachs showed, believes that bankers take priority over taxpayers. The only one to speak up for the Irish was UK chancellor George Osborne, but Geithner, as always, got his way. An instructive, if painful, lesson in the extent of US soft power, and in who our friends really are.

The negotiations went downhill from there. On one side was the European Central Bank, unabashedly representing Ireland’s creditors and insisting on full repayment of bank bonds. On the other was the IMF, arguing that Irish taxpayers would be doing well to balance their government’s books, let alone repay the losses of private banks. And the Irish? On the side of the ECB, naturally.

In the circumstances, the ECB walked away with everything it wanted. The IMF were scathing of the Irish performance, with one staffer describing the eagerness of some Irish negotiators to side with the ECB as displaying strong elements of Stockholm Syndrome.

Here is much more, interesting throughout, essential reading I would say. By the way, here is the game theory if Ireland simply bails on some previous commitments to bank creditors:

At a stroke, the Irish Government can halve its debt to a survivable €110 billion. The ECB can do nothing to the Irish banks in retaliation without triggering a catastrophic panic in Spain and across the rest of Europe. The only way Europe can respond is by cutting off funding to the Irish Government.

Are you seeing a pattern emerge?  I thank a loyal MR reader for the pointer.

Addendum: Good update on the euro gossip here.

Childhood memories

Alex’s post brought back some childhood memories. At school, in sixth and seventh grade, we played a game called “Bombardment,” where you wailed the ball at the other kid’s head, as hard as you could.  If a kid shied away from the ball, the gym teacher laughed at him.

After school, there was a game called, appropriately, “Kill the guy”; now it’s an on-line game.

I played Little League for seven years.  One day during practice I was in the outfield and I missed a catch and the ball smashed into my eye.  It hurt!  And it bruised.  I sat down for a while but was back out on the field for the next session.  I didn’t go home and no one called my mother.  The coach asked “Are you OK?”

One day a poor girl in the Girl Scouts was walking around and selling cookies, when a young man lured her into his house and raped and killed her, a few blocks from our house in Hillsdale.  They organized a Frankenstein-like village hunt, found the girl’s body, and traced it back to the guy, who was sent to jail and remains there to this day.  This didn’t change any of the local norms.

Maybe it’s still all like this, I cannot say.

Words of wisdom

From Ross Douthat (1/20):

The only counter-argument here is the claim that the cost-cutting powers the White House wants to grant to IPAB (Medicare’s Independent Payment Advisory Board, that is) actually represents a courageous attempt to dramatically cut spending via the sustained rationing of care…The problem is that this isn’t how the President has sold the board to the public: Instead, he’s promised that it will only reduce “unnecessary spending,” which is basically the equivalent of a Republican promising to keep the entitlement system solvent by reducing Medicare fraud. (There is unnecessary spending in Medicare, certainly, but asking a 15-person board to distinguish the necessary from the unnecessary is a lot harder than many liberals seem to think.) There’s no Congressional Budget Office projection in which IPAB seriously closes the deficit, and no detail, from the White House or anyone, on what a successfully-IPABified Medicare would mean for seniors’ out-of-pocket costs. 

Ahem, a lot of the spending cuts are frauds

Via the cool-minded Kevin Drum (I have added no extra indentation, it is Kevin and then the AP, and then Kevin again, not me):

Here’s AP reporter Andrew Taylor digging into the $38 billion in spending cuts that Republicans agreed to and finding that an awful lot of it is smoke and mirrors:

Instead, the cuts that actually will make it into law are far tamer, including […] $2.5 billion from the most recent renewal of highway programs that can’t be spent because of restrictions set by other legislation. Another $3.5 billion comes from unused spending authority from a program providing health care to children of lower-income families.

….The spending measure reaps $350 million by cutting a one-year program enacted in 2009 for dairy farmers then suffering from low milk prices. Another $650 million comes by not repeating a one-time infusion into highway programs passed that same year. And just last Friday, Congress approved Obama’s $1 billion request for high-speed rail grants — crediting themselves with $1.5 billion in savings relative to last year.

About $10 billion of the cuts comes from targeting appropriations accounts previously used by lawmakers for so-called earmarks….Republicans had already engineered a ban on earmarks when taking back the House this year.

Republicans also claimed $5 billion in savings by capping payments from a fund awarding compensation to crime victims. Under an arcane bookkeeping rule — used for years by appropriators — placing a cap on spending from the Justice Department crime victims fund allows lawmakers to claim the entire contents of the fund as budget savings. The savings are awarded year after year.

And this report from CBS News notes two other phantom cuts: $1.7 billion left over from the 2010 census and $2.2 billion in subsidies for health insurance co-ops that are going to be funded anyway via the healthcare reform bill. This stuff alone adds up to $27.4 billion, all of it money that wouldn’t have been spent anyway. I suppose you can argue that some of it might have gotten reallocated if it hadn’t been removed legislatively, but I doubt that the tea party true believers are in a mood to buy that. If these reports are correct, the bill contains only about $11 billion in hard cuts. Basically, it looks as if the tea partiers may have gotten snookered by their own side.

A Rubinstein bargaining model with a finite time horizon

Not something I’ve studied in any depth, but there is this paper by Randolph Sloof:

We characterize equilibrium behavior in a finite horizon multiple-pie alternating
offer bargaining game in which both agents have outside options and threat points. In contrast to the infinite horizon case the strength of the threat to delay agreement is non-stationary and decreases over time. Typically the delay threat determines proposals in early periods, while the threat to opt out characterizes those in later ones. Owing to this nonstationarity both threats may appear in the equilibrium shares agreed upon. When the threat to opt out is empty for both agents, the outcome corresponds exactly with the (generalized) Nash bargaining solution. The latter observation may prove useful for designing experiments that are meant to test economic models that include a bargaining stage.

In other words, I am not surprised they are on the verge of reaching a deal.  The features determining behavior in the earlier periods are not the same as the features determining behavior toward the end.  Low “delay costs” do not mean low “no deal at all” costs, especially for the Republicans.

Questions that are rarely asked

By email, from Joshua Miller:

Do you think there is an audience for a public policy game show? The idea would be to ask contestants to solve policy problems instead of asking them to navigate obstacle courses or eat spiders.

Much of my research is on deliberative democracy and civic engagement, but though Obama used that rhetoric in his campaign there haven’t been any major policy moves to increase civic engagement. So I wondered:

If you have any comments, I’d appreciate them. I don’t imagine this as some sort of televised town hall meeting; rather, I envision judging contestants’ policy choices according to realistic projections of their impact.

Here is Alex’s proposal for, So You Think You Can Be President?

How would the time-stream of humanity sort itself into coalitions?

Kevin Riste, a loyal MR reader, and perhaps a loyal Philip Jose Farmer reader, asks me:

…if all of the people in recent history (since, say, 10,000 BC or so?) through today were somehow gathered at a sort of “conference,” do you have any predictions for how they would align themselves over time? what distinctions would be most significant? assuming language barriers are overcome to an extent, since that seems most significant.. male/female? by decades? nerds/jocks?

Let’s assume that different eras send roughly equal numbers of people to the conference and let’s make the conference small enough to be manageable.  No one can bring weapons or iPhones.  I believe the most significant coalition would be “rulers vs. ruled.”  On one side of the banquet table would sit modern Americans, members of the Roman Senate and Imperium, Ghenghis Khan supporters, eighteenth century Brits, 15th century Nahuas, Song Dynasty fans, and so on.  They would commiserate over the plight of having to make all those tough militaristic decisions and how little they are appreciated for it.  They would have plenty of disagreements, but ultimately they could be unified if ever the other side threatened to take over.  The Albanians, Armenians, Angolans, Bolivians, the less powerful Native American groups, and others would show up on the other side and trade stories of commiseration.  They too would have plenty of disagreements, but with less underlying unity.

In fact there is a such a conference, in atemporal form, and it is called the United Nations.

What I learn from chess and computers

I take these points to be a jumping off place for thinking about computers and future economic growth, and wages, more generally.  The AI revolution basically came first to chess!  Of course chess is sustained by a mix of donations, corporate and political sponsorship, wage labor (e.g., lessons), and volunteer labor, so it is hardly a metaphor for the economy as a whole; still we can see how computer labor and human labor might fit together:

1. Databases equalize preparation opportunities for the top players.  Those who rise to the very top have very strong creative skills.  In relative terms, being a chess “grind” is worth less than in times past.

2. If the computer is set at 2200 strength, “me plus the computer” (I override it every now and then) almost always beats “the computer alone.”  Often we beat “the computer alone” very badly.  If the computer is set at full strength, my counsel is worth much less, although it is not valueless.

3. With a computer set at full strength, the useful “team” requires a much stronger human team member than I.  The required education level — for the team’s “wage premium” — is ratcheted up.

4. Chess is an area where educational reform has been extremely rapid and extremely successful.  Chess education today revolves around learning how to learn from the computer, and this change has come within the last ten to fifteen years.  No intermediaries were able to prevent it or slow it down.  Humans now teach themselves how to team with computers, and the leading human players have to be very good at this.  The computers which most successfully team with humans are those which replicate most rapidly.

5. There are many more chess prodigies than ever before, and they mature at a more rapid pace.

6. We used to think that computers would play chess like we did, only “without the mistakes.”  We now know that playing without the mistakes involves a very different style from what we had imagined.  A lot of human positional intuitions are garbage, and the computer can make sense out of ugly-looking moves.  A lot of the human progress since then has involved unlearning previous positional rules and realizing how contingent they are.  Younger players, who grew up playing chess with computers, are especially good at this.  For older players, it is a good way to learn how unreliable your intuitions can be.

7. Highly exact and concrete analysis, and calculation of variations, is now the centerpiece of grandmaster chess at top levels.  We have learned how to become more like the computers.  The computers have taught us well.

8. Chess-playing computers still are not meta-rational.  They do not understand what they do not understand very well, for instance blocked positions and long sequences of repetition.  That is one reason why human-computer teams are so important and so productive.

Here is Kasparov on Watson.  Here is Kasparov on AI and chess.  Here is a good treatment of human-computer teams.

Western intellectuals and Gadhafi

Robert Putnam was once called to a meeting with Gadhafi.  Here is an excerpt from his account:

Students of Western political philosophy would categorize Col. Gadhafi as a quintessential student of Jean-Jacques Rousseau: He made clear that he deeply distrusted any political group that might stand between individual citizens and the "General Will" as interpreted by the Legislator (i.e., Col. Gadhafi himself). When I argued that freedom of association could enhance democratic stability, he vehemently dismissed the idea. That might be so in the West, he insisted, but in Libya it would simply strengthen tribalism, and he would not stand for disunity.

Throughout, he styled our meeting as a conversation between two profound political thinkers, a trope that approached the absurd when he observed that there were international organizations for many professions nowadays, but none for philosopher-kings. "Why don't we make that happen?" he proposed with a straight face. I smiled, at a loss for words. Col. Gadhafi was a tyrant and a megalomaniac, not a philosopher-king, but our visit left me convinced that he was not a simple man.

Was this a serious conversation or an elaborate farce? Naturally, I came away thinking–hoping–that I had managed to sway Col. Gadhafi in some small way, but my wife was skeptical. Two months later I was invited back to a public roundtable in Libya, but by then I had concluded that the whole exercise was a public-relations stunt, and I declined.

Hat tip goes to Monkey Cage and ultimately, the fabled Daniel Lippman.  But that's not all — Benjamin Barber also had some visits to meet with the Libyan leader, here is his account:

Written off not long ago as an implacable despot, Gaddafi is a complex and adaptive thinker as well as an efficient, if laid-back, autocrat. Unlike almost any other Arab ruler, he has exhibited an extraordinary capacity to rethink his country's role in a changed and changing world.


Surprisingly flexible and pragmatic, Gaddafi was once an ardent socialist who now acknowledges private property and capital as sometimes appropriate elements in developing societies. Once an opponent of representative central government, he is wrestling with the need to delegate substantial authority to competent public officials if Libya is to join the global system. Once fearful of outside media, he has permitted satellite dishes throughout his country, and he himself surfs the Internet.

Libya under Gaddafi has embarked on a journey that could make it the first Arab state to transition peacefully and without overt Western intervention to a stable, non-autocratic government and, in time, to an indigenous mixed constitution favoring direct democracy locally and efficient government centrally.

Here is Barber's piece on Libya from 2011.  It starts like this:

I offer my views about Libya here not just as a democratic theorist and HuffPost regular, but as a member of the International Board of the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation until this morning, when I resigned.

*Endgame*, and the rationality of Bobby Fischer

The author is Frank Brady and the subtitle is Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall — from America's Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness.  It is sure to make my list of the best books of 2011 and it requires no real knowledge of chess.  Here is an excerpt on the rationality of the young Fischer:

While they were waiting for the results, Bisguier asked Bobby why he's offered the draw to Shipman when he had a slight advantage and the outcome wasn't certain.  If Bobby had won that game, he would have been the tournament's clear winner, a half point ahead of Bisguier.  Bobby replied that he had more to gain than lose by the decision.  He'd assumed that Bisguier would either win or draw his own game, and if so, Bobby would have at least a tie for first place.  That meant a payday of $750 for each player, a virtual gold mine for Fischer.  Recognizing Bobby's greater need for money than the capture of a title, however prestigious, Bisguier noted: "Evidently, his mature judgment is not solely confined to the chessboard."

Much later in Fischer's life:

…Bobby and Miyoko attended a screening [in Japan] of the American film Pearl Harbor.  When the Japanese Zeroes began bombing the ships in Battleship Row and destroyed the USS Arizona, Bobby began clapping loudly.  He was the only one in the theater to do do — much to the embarrassment of the Japanese.  He said that he was shocked that no one else joined in.

There are many revelations in this book, including that Bobby turned to Catholicism in the last period of his life.

The elasticity of trust in the Middle East

From a new experimental paper, by Iris Bohnet, Benedikt Hermann, Mohamad Al-Ississ, Andrea Robbett (she is speaking at GMU today), Khalid Al-Yahi, and Richard Zeckauser, here is one bit from the conclusion:

Mechanisms aimed at mitigating the cost of betrayal, such as damages or insurance provision, seem to work better in the United States, and arrangements focusing on preventing the occurrence of betrayal, such as a punishment threat, have greater impact in the Arab Middle East. In our experiments, trust was promoted by decreasing the cost of betrayal in the United States but not in Jordan. Punishment functioned differently. Giving the first mover the option to take revenge at a price should she be betrayed enhanced trust in Saudi Arabia but not in the United States.

Women and alcohol

Is there a better blog post title?  Here is the abstract of a new paper, "Women or Wine, Monogamy and Alcohol":

Intriguingly, across the world the main social groups which practice polygyny do not consume alcohol. We investigate whether there is a correlation between alcohol consumption and polygynous/monogamous arrangements, both over time and across cultures. Historically, we find a correlation between the shift from polygyny to monogamy and the growth of alcohol consumption. Cross-culturally we also find that monogamous societies consume more alcohol than polygynous societies in the preindustrial world. We provide a series of possible explanations to explain the positive correlation between monogamy and alcohol consumption over time and across societies.

That's by Mara Squicciarini and Jo Swinnen.