Politics & Game Theory
Game theory is the study of mathematical models of strategic interaction among rational decision-makers. It has applications in all fields of social science, as well as in logic, systems science and computer science.
Originally, it addressed zero-sum games, in which each participant's gains or losses are exactly balanced by those of the other participants.
Today, game theory applies to a wide range of behavioural relations and is now an umbrella term for the science of logical decision making in humans, animals, and computers.
Everything Is A Game
In life we are constantly confronted with decisions we need to make, and the decisions we make have a profound impact on our lives. Our lives are a series of choices with each choices leading to the next.
We are not wondering about this world on our own. Our choices also involve interacting with others, and the choices they make can impact our lives.
Two people can also be working against each other where a positive outcome for one could mean a negative outcome for another.
A game of tennis is a simple two-person contest with a single winner at the end of the game. It has rules that are clearly defined, and each opponent participates in the game knowing and agreeing on the rules. This is called a finite game, where the game has a clear start and end and a final winner.
As we increase the number of players in a game, the complexity also increases. A soccer game requires eleven people on a team to execute a strategy together. Rugby increases the number of people on a team to fifteen, but regardless of the number of players, it is still a finite game with clear rules and a final winner and loser.
When playing a finite game, everybody knows they are participating and the numbers matter as we use points and time to determine the outcome.
Not everything in life has a clear start and end, or a clear winner or loser. The decisions we make outside of a finite game are still choices that have an impact. One choice often leads to another that leads to another. This is called an infinite game where the game does not end, and there are no clear rules and the rules and players can change at any time.
Most of life is an infinite game, the game of business is an infinite game where different companies compete. Politics is an infinite game, and the biggest game is where we have countries competing against each other.
In the infinite game, the numbers matter a lot less as they just a point in time, and because there is no clear winner or loser, numbers and stats are just a reflection of the current position in the game only. This could be a companies quarterly sales or the number of votes a political party received in the latest election. Just because you got a big contract or won an election does not mean you won the game.
Strategies & Mindsets
The mindset of a player in a finite game is very different from the mindset of an infinite player. In the finite game, you know the rules and how long the game will last and the resources required to participate. In an infinite game, none of this is true and all that matters to an infinite player is continuing the game.
The problem is that often people will use a finite strategy in an infinite game and when competing against an infinite player the finite strategy always loses.
A finite strategy in business would be looking to beat your year-end numbers and goals at all costs regardless of how you achieve them. An infinite strategy considers next year and maybe even the next five years and would make completely different choices than somebody trying to just win and be the best this month, quarter or year.
Vietnam War Example
The US involvement in the Vietnam war is a fantastic example of two opponents, one with a finite strategy trying to win and another with an infinite strategy trying to survive.
The US went into the war with much greater resources than its opponent and on paper was the strongest player. The US also went into the war with certain expectations, and its supporters of the war expected a result within a reasonable time. The US had entered into a game with a finite mindset.
The Vietnamese were not fighting on a timeline or to some deadline, they were fighting for survival, and this means they were playing an infinite strategy.
An infinite strategy will always defeat a finite strategy, and so as time dragged on the US had to dedicate more and more resources over a longer and longer time. Once they crossed an expected tipping point, they lost their support for the war. Their opponent had exhausted their resources, and they could not continue because it exceeded the expectations of their finite strategy.
Never About Winning Today
In politics, when we observe the players in a Democracy, we can often see finite games play out and the consequences. An infinite strategy is often made up of smaller finite goals. The difference is that no finite goal can ever negatively affect the long term strategy. If it does, you have switched strategies, and are now playing a finite game.
In an infinite strategy, the long term is always the focus. It is common to sacrifice a short term goal in the service of a long term goal. The inverse is the sign of a finite strategy where short term goals are the focus at the determent of a long term game.
DA 2019 Example
The DA did not have the best 2019 general election. The actual election result was not that bad. What made it worse is the expectation that was set leading up to the election. What followed after the elections is what made it a bad election result for the DA.
A review committee found DA leader Mmusi Maimane responsible for the poor performance. What followed within a single week was Mmusi Maimane, Athol Trollip and Herman Mashaba all resigning, and Helen Zille was back as the Federal Council Chairperson.
The DA had become accustomed to growing in large percentages so, the expectations were set. Mmusi Maimane's electoral strategy was about beating the ANC, rather than what he could offer voters, Athol Trollip and Herman Mashaba deciding to exit the game.
Mmusi Maimane, Athol Trollip and Herman Mashaba could have achieved far more from the inside in the long term than they could ever possibly on their own. It was the expectation set by the DA leadership going into the elections that hurt them. When the result was not what they expected instead of pivoting and focusing on the voters, they focused on who to blame.
Everything that happened leading up to the 2019 elections and the fallout after was examples of finite strategies playing out. Mmusi Maimane was in an accelerated way pushed up into a position of leadership, not because he was a good leader and promoted DA values, but because he was the right picture they wanted to sell.
Mmusi is a great pastor and is great at preaching and leading a congregation. What makes a great paster does not mix well with politics, just as what makes a great politician does not make for a great religious leader. Religion and politics are two completely different games, requiring different approaches. Fundamentally Mmusi Maimane was not a good politician and caused a great deal of conflict internally in the DA.
The DA is a large vibrant Democratic organization, and we are sure they will bounce back from these setbacks and refocus on the voters and long term goals.
ANC Long Game
When reviewing the ANC performance and how it behaves, it is clearly on a long term infinite strategy. A strategy that many incorrectly evaluate as a poor performing government and incompetence expecting heads to roll. Yet scandal after scandal nobody is ever fired or charged. Leaders are never blamed or held accountable for poor performance by some internal review committee.
The lack of accountability that is often used as an example of the ANC's incompetence is a very effective long term strategy. Most view the ANC as a government that is meant to serve the people of South Africa, and because they are failing in that role they must be incompetent or bad at their jobs. If you instead view the ANC as an organization that looks to further its own self-interests and grow its power, influence and control. Then they are performing extremely well, and perceived incompetence and poor performance are an effective long term strategy.
A great example of this strategy is the migration to digital TV broadcasting and the allocation of the radio frequency spectrum for faster and cheaper mobile Internet. This process has been ongoing since 2006 with constant delays and excuses why, and everybody is up in arms blaming the slow poor performance of the ANC government.
The real question South Africa should be asking is why would they allocate the spectrum and lose the leverage over the mobile networks. That spectrum is a powerful bargaining tool that gives them leverage, and control. They would rather look like they serving South Africa's interests, but issues are holding up the process. When in reality poor performance is a deliberate strategy in a broader infinite game they are playing revolving around power and control.
The ANC is a strong infinite player, and the people of South Africa would be wise to stop viewing incompetence when they should be seeing strategy and tactics.
Learning The Game
We would encourage all patriots to learn more about game theory and the different mindsets and strategies that can play out.
Patriots should be thinking about the long game and how we can advance Democracy over the long term in a permanent manner, and assessing the enemy's long term strategy more carefully with different eyes.