Tuesday 22 October 2019

ARTICLE 6: Applying Lateral Thinking - Game Theory to Politics

We have often discussed the similarities between the roles of governments and businesses in our current world in the Viable Underdogs Books and Podcast. In 2019, Businesses have had to start worrying about more than just the bottom line. Examples of this include Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), or the Triple Bottom line: People, Planet, Profits (Elkington, J., 2018).

This has been a slow process since academics still have not updated a lot of course material and education processes to include these types of ideas and keep up with our changing world. This is not some sort of conspiracy. Just good old-fashioned laziness and resistance to change coupled with academic arrogance, which will be explored in an upcoming article 
(See: Article 11: 3BL, Incentives, & Urgency). 

Today, I am going to start by showing something I find kinda cool…

Every Country’s Tourism Slogans

As further evidence outlining the idea of this government/business overlap, were you aware that most nations on our globe have a slogan they use for tourism? I encourage you to check them out. Some of the slogans are rather clever, and some might also be reflective of the culture within that nation:

Escape Manila: Tourism Slogan of Every Country in the World

The Guardian: The World's Tourism Slogans Mapped

There will be more evidence outlining the overlap of these two roles in our World’s Organizational Structure (Episode 33).

Game Theory

In Episode 10 of the Viable Underdogs Podcast (as well as in the book), we discussed Game Theory. As a quick recap, here are a few links to better explore the concept of Game Theory, along with The Prisoner’s Dilemma and the Nash Equilibrium. As an FYI, if you have seen the 2001 movie “A Beautiful Mind,” Russel Crowes character, John Nash, is the one who developed the Nash Equilibrium, which is a concept within Game Theory:

Crash Course Economics #26

SciShow: Game Theory: The Science of Decision-Making

Game Theory in Reality TV Shows

Reality TV shows, like Survivor, that involve contestants voting themselves off the show are a different example of Game Theory. Just like in the Prisoner’s Dilemma, strategies come into play since no contestant knows how the others are voting, since voting is done separate from anyone else. If every contestant had to show the others who they were voting for as they were submitting the vote, then this would likely affect the outcomes of the votes. This anonymous style of voting allows for different strategies and coalitions to be formed among the contestant. That’s all Game Theory really is. It’s a strategy one party uses based on how they think the other party will act. In the references section, there is an article from Cornell University further exploring Game Theory in Reality Competition shows.

“Zero Escape" Game Series

Another option to learn the underlying principles of Game Theory and The Prisoner’s Dilemma, I encourage you to try out the game series “Zero Escape.” The second game in the franchise, Virtue’s Last Reward, does a terrific job at teaching the concepts of Game Theory (using absolutely no maths!). Here’s a review on the third instalment in the series:

IGN: Zero Time Dilemma Review

Side Note. This game is another great example of Lateral Thinking (It combines a video game with graphic -novel-type storytelling, puzzles similar to those found in escape rooms (SOURCE), with thought experiments like the Prisoner’s Dilemma. This really isn’t a typical video game.

Here’s a quick recap taken from the book
Viable Underdogs Presents: Uncage Human Ingenuity:


So just where are we going with this? What can the Prisoner’s Dilemma and Game Theory teach us about what is occurring in the world at a global level in terms of sustainability?

Quite a bit, actually.

We talked in Episode 7 about how some countries export their garbage to foreign markets that have more relaxed environmental regulations (Parker, L., 2019.), and this would be an example of Game Theory at play. The best-case scenario for both countries, in this example, would be for both countries to cooperate and both countries to work together to solve the problem of waste, since waste is a global issue and the consequences of which will impact both countries.

If one country decides to spend more money on green energy programs, and another decides to increase its use of fossil fuels for greater energy utilization, then the country implementing the green energy programs may chose to abandon these when they feel that the other country is exploiting this to their advantage.

And you’ll hear exactly this being discussed on a global level by many politicians anytime there is a summit or meeting on a sustainability issue.

Country A feels that Country B isn’t doing enough. And so on.

Developing nations sometimes blame developed countries for the state the world is currently in, and developed nations sometimes blame developing nations when they implement strategies that will compound the sustainability issues the world is facing. Their justification for this is that developed nations utilized fossil fuels and unsustainable practices to increase their wealth at the cost of the others. So, shouldn’t they also have a turn?

And really, who is right in this scenario. Who is wrong? And this where the similarities between global sustainability and Prisoner’s dilemma come into play. The best scenario and outcome is for every nation, individual, and business on earth to cooperate and fix this problem. But what is sometimes occurring instead is an individual, business or nation is preserving their own self-interests in the fears that not everyone will cooperate.
This creates a stalemate where the entire world is in agreement that massive change is critical to the very survival of our species, but nothing is actually being done.

Check out: https://climateactiontracker.org/ to see just how little is being done.

Many of us believe that the other prisoner will choose ‘confess’ instead of choosing ‘cooperation.’ Resulting in a world where we are all prisoners powerless to do anything to change course and avoid disaster.


Since nations behave, in many ways, like businesses (they have trade wars and make catchy slogan’s for tourists to come visit), then globally, we need to realize that a portion of any nation’s international decisions involves Game Theory concepts. This would exist at every level of government, even various levels of government within a single nation.

If everyone is aware that this concept can affect decisions, then strategies can be put in place to mitigate this to some degree. By employing lateral thinking, we can take economic principals of Game Theory, The Prisoner’s Dilemma, and The Nash Equilibrium, and apply them to political principals. And as always, I am not the first one to present this idea.

Slow Acceptance of New Ideas

However, to further drive my point home on the Sloooooow Acceptance of New Ideas (See: literally everything I am working on), the principles of Game Theory in Economics have been known since at least 1838 – about 180 years ago with the Cournot model (Cournot Duopoly, N.D.).

Then, about 30 years ago, Game Theory started to become more popular in Economics (Guner, S., 2012), which would explain why some researchers were writing papers like these in the mid 1980s:

Snidal, D. (1985). The Game Theory of International Politics. World Politics, 38(1), 25-57. doi:10.2307/2010350
Here is the opening line of the preview in that paper written over 30 years ago:
“The application of game theory to international politics is hardly new, but there has been recent increase in popularity of the approach.”

Now compare this to something written a quarter century later in 2012 (Guner, S., 2012):
“Economists discovered how powerful the tool of game theory is much later in 1980s especially through a program called Nash equilibrium refinement. Nevertheless, while game theory became a major staple in economic analyses, there has been no parallel move in the field of international relations.”
NOTE: ‘In this case, “parallel move” refers to Lateral Thinking, or any of the other following terms: Medici effect / Intersection of ideas (Johansson), Silo effect or Functional Chimneys problem, etc.

To restate, while some researchers have been discussing the need to apply game theory to other fields for over 30 years, nothing overly tangible has been accomplished. I wish this lack of action or even interest was isolated specifically to these fields, but as my podcast and book shows (not to mention some of the material still yet to come), this divergence has been occurring in all fields throughout Academia and has been occurring for many decades!

Perhaps if knowledge of Game Theory had a greater presence in International Politics, The Paris Agreement could have been handled differently, and probably far more successfully…




Burnett, D., (2013). The Guardian. Nothing personal: The questionable Myers-Briggs Test.

Cornell University, (2015). Game Theory in Reality Competition Shows.

Cournot Duopoly, (N.D.). Policonomics.

Crash Course Economics #26 (YouTube). 2016.

Dunford, J., (2016). The Guardian. The world’s tourism slogans – mapped.

Elkington, J., (2018). Harvard Business Review. 25 years ago I coined the phrase “Triple Bottom Line.” Here’s why it’s time to rethink it.

Escape Manila, (2017). Escape Manila. Tourism slogan of every country in the world.

Guner, S., (2012). E-International Relations. A short note on he use of game theory in Analyses of International Relations.

Koczwara, M., (2016). IGN. Zero Time Dilemma Review.

SciShow: Game Theory: The Science of Decision-Making (YouTube). 2016.

Snidal, D. (1985). The Game Theory of International Politics. World Politics, 38(1), 25-57. doi:10.2307/2010350

Solving the Global Communication Crisis

Prior to reading: The following article references material included in other books. Check out blurb.com for a list of all books. It may be...