Predictioneer's Game : Using the Logic of Brazen Self-Interest to See and Shape the Future

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 9/29/2009
  • Publisher: Random House

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From one of the country's most respected, progressive, and controversial political scientists comes a startling, revelatory look into the use of game theory to make predictions about future events.

Author Biography

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita is the Julius Silver Professor of Politics at New York University and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. A specialist in policy forecasting, political economy, and international security policy, he received his doctorate in political science from the University of Michigan. Bueno de Mesquita is the author of fifteen books and more than one hundred articles as well as numerous pieces in major newspapers and magazines. He has appeared on all the major networks as well as television broadcasts in Brazil, China, Korea, the Netherlands, and elsewhere. His previous book, The Strategy of Campaigning, was co-authored with Kiron Skinner, Serhiy Kudelia, and Condoleeza Rice. He lives in San Francisco and New York City.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. ix
What Will It Take to Put You in This Car Today?p. 3
Game Theory 101p. 10
Game Theory 102p. 29
Bombs Awayp. 47
Napkins for Peace: Defining the Questionp. 66
Engineering the Futurep. 86
Fast-Forward the Presentp. 103
How to Predict the Unpredictablep. 124
Fun with the Pastp. 140
Dare to Be Embarrassed!p. 171
The Big Sweep: The History of Worms, or Bali High, Bali Lowp. 203
Acknowledgmentsp. 227
Appendicesp. 231
Notesp. 235
Indexp. 241
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.


Chapter One


GAME THEORY" IS a fancy label for a pretty simple idea: that people do what they believe is in their best interest. That means they pay attention to how others might react if they choose to do one thing or another. Those "others" are anyone believed to be a prospective supporter or opponent. Looking at how their interests intersect or collide is basic to assessing potential outcomes of decision making. To get a good grip on what people are likely to do requires first approximating what they believe about the situation and what they want to get out of it. By estimating carefully people's wants and beliefs, anyone can make a reliable forecast of what each and every one of them will do. And if you can predict what will happen, then you can also predict what will happen if you alter what people believe about a situation. This is, in short, how we can use the same logic both for prediction and for engineering the future.  

I'll provide a more detailed examination of game theory in the next two chapters, but first, as promised, let me illustrate what I'm talking about with the example of how best to buy a new car.   A new car purchase is a costly bargaining experience for most of us because most of us are bad at it. A little strategic reasoning can go a long way to improve the experience. If you follow the ideas here, you will not only have a happier time buying a car, you'll also pay a lot less money.  

New cars are mostly bought in one of two ways. Most of us go to a dealership, test-drive a vehicle, maybe fall in love with it, and engage in a most unpleasant negotiation over the price. A smaller number of us hate that experience enough that we buy cars through the Internet. This usually means getting price bids from a few local dealers and then going to one of them to get the car. That's slightly better, but there's yet a better way to buy cars that I urge you to try.  

What's wrong with the most popular means of car shopping? Pretty much everything. To start with, you, the buyer, invest your time, and probably the time of some family members as well, at a car dealership. The salesperson knows that few people enjoy dealing with them. They know that they rate near the bottom of anybody's scale of occupational trustworthiness. (The Jobs Rated Almanac weights occupations by numerous factors and reports that auto sales ranks 220th out of 250 occupations.1 Apparently it's worse to be a taxi driver, cowboy, or roustabout, but not by much.) But there you are subjecting yourself to the salesperson's pitch, standing before a car dealer in his or her place of business, feeling compelled to haggle over the price, probably to your embarrassment and certainly to your disadvantage. The whole time you're talking to the dealer you're revealing information that sets you up to pay too much.  

Being there is what game theorists call a "costly signal." It's a costly signal because your expenditure of time and energy announces that you want to buy, that there's a good chance you'll buy from the dealership you're visiting rather than go elsewhere, and, especially if you have kids with you, that you want to get out of there as quickly as possible. That first step, then, your simply being there, translates into strengthening the salesperson's hand in getting a good price. They believe you're ready to buy, and you've done precious little to dissuade them. Score one for the dealer, none for you.  

Now as it happens, costly signals are usually good things for you. They show you're serious about what you are saying and doing. That can give you credibility, as we will see in later chapters. Unfortunately, costly signals can have just the opposite effect when you're a shopper. They announce your eagerness to buy, and that makes it tough to get a good deal.  

The situat

Excerpted from The Predictioneer's Game: Using the Logic of Brazen Self-Interest to See and Shape the Future by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita
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