Monday, June 15, 2009

Game Theory in Canadian Politics

OK, so what are the options?

1) Harper refused to compromise, opposition votes non-confidence -> ELECTION

2) Harper refuses to compromise, opposition rolls over -> NO ELECTION

3) Harper compromises, opposition votes non-confidence -> ELECTION

4) Harper compromises, opposition lets government survive -> NO ELECTION

5) Wild card (i.e. prorogation, Harper pulls the plug himself, etc...)

At this point, I just can't see option 2 coming to pass, as Ignatieff would look worse than Dion ever did and would be ridiculed by the press all summer long. I think rolling over was a very legitimate option today, but after issuing a new set of demands, it's just not in the cards. I suppose there remains a small chance the NDP or Bloc might keep Harper afloat, but they've been fairly definitive in saying they'll vote against him at every opportunity.

So, with that in mind, the ball is in Stephen Harper's court - what are his options?

Well, if he wants an election, he has three ways to go about it (1, 3, 5). Presumably, he'd want to shift the election blame on to the Liberals, which might lead us to scenario 3, where Harper agrees to some of Ignatieff's rather ambiguous demands, but not enough to earn their confidence. Or, he could sneer at the opposition and simply dare them to bring his government down, trying to look like a strong, confident leader (option 1).

Now, if Harper doesn't want an election, he has the opportunity to avoid it. Ignatieff's demands really aren't that onerous (a plan here, a promise there...), and Harper doesn't even have to cave to Ignatieff - there are two other opposition leaders out there who might relish the opportunity of getting some "results for people"/"results for Quebecers". And, quite frankly, when the deficit is over 50 billion dollars, is anyone really going to care much if Jack Layton gets a few billion for a pet project of his?

So, the decision is Harper's. And, truth be told, I have no friggin' clue what he'll decide.

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  • One columnist I read said that none of the parties have recieved their rebates from the last election yet and some have no money to fight another election. However, the Liberals are likley desperate to have an election before the economy picks up.
    I say Iggy thumps his chest a while, Harper throws him a bone, then everyone goes on vacation.

    By Blogger nuna d. above, at 6:37 PM  

  • I agree with nuna d. above.

    By Blogger hatrock, at 8:12 PM  

  • I think that what will happen is a combination of 2 and 4. Harper will compromise... a bit, but not as much as Ignatieff requires in order to support the government. This gives Iggy just enough wiggle room to hold his nose, shake his fist, but vote with the government anyway.

    By OpenID DevinJohnston, at 9:21 PM  

  • Oh please, Ignatieff didn't make any demands, he simply "asked questions".

    This was clearly designed so he could take whatever answers Harper gave, declare a phony victory and roll over.

    That's exactly what Michael Ignatieff is now doing.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:43 PM  

  • Ignatieff's demands are difficult for Harper to NOT meet. Three of them are simply requests for reports that Harper will no doubt respond to by putting down on paper the same garbage that he's been spouting in question period. Ignatieff has been painfully flexible about EI. We need an election NOW. Don't let Harper get away with this. He's rubbing it in our faces, and we're ahead in the polls! He's the one who should be running scared. Ignatieff will crush him in the debates and we'll almost certainly win. If we don't have an election, the pundits and newspaper writers will pile on with the same insults that they hurled at Dion. We'll be spending the entire summer and fall watching Conservative personal attack ads until after Harper has pranced around at the Olympics and called the election himself. It would be Dion all over again. Let's listen to the guy who won three majorities.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:52 PM  

  • Anon 10:52, if you watched today's performance by Ignatieff and concluded that he will trounce his opponents in a TV debate, then we were not watching the same man.

    He couldn't explain his position if his life depended on it. As it stands only his job depends on it. But then, his position changed several times over the course of the day, too.

    My guess: the polls will start to shift very soon, because I think the public just started to learn something important about Michael Ignatieff: he's a terrible negotiator, and a horrible communicator. The honeymoon is definitely over.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:29 PM  

  • Sorry Merkel and Obama, it looks like my 21st century Keynesian analysis might not happen. Do okay I guess with 20th century road building with whatever Keynes they teach in Universities (IDK I invent my own curriculum for stuff like this).
    I imagine by fall I'll have moved onto something else...Northern Europe deserves detailed analysis by the world's financial and industrial minds, can't take the quality-of-living cutting edge for granted. Harper would just have me go to casual labour anyway and arrest or beaten when buying weed to decompress (I pretty much quit gulping the legal drug of choice).

    By Anonymous Phillip Huggan, at 12:26 AM  

  • At issue panel DESTROYED Iggy!!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:21 AM  

  • Ignatieff did look bad on the National last night. The man just can't explain all the contradictions in his position.

    By Anonymous CD, at 9:30 AM  

  • I disagree that the ball is in Harper's court. According to one of the varying positions he had in his press interviews yesterday, he was demanding answers about EI, stimulus spending and the growing deficit, and information on plans for dealing with the shortage of medical isotopes. Well, Mr Harper held a press conference and provided the answers - NO on the 45 day work year, YES on more EI changes including opening it to self-employed. Work is continuing on developing solutions to the isotope shortage (but get real, you can't build a reactor in a month and the disastrous Maple Reactor that cost millions and never worked was never a possibility) and uncertainty over how shutting down Parliament for an election can speed up stimulus spending. So from where I sit, Ignatieff got his answers. What is he going to do now? They will be meeting today but that is pure posturing and show on both parts - Ignatieff will have to find a way to save face and Harper will have to find a way to contain his gloating at the ridiculous corner Ignatieff painted himself into - these are dangerous times. Ignatieff's pride and ego may not allow him to extricate himself from this election stupidity while Harper's partisanship may not allow him to save Ignatieff's bacon by providing some face-saving measure. Ignatieff sparked this election problem - I hope he is half as smart as everybody claims and he can figure a way to snuff it out.

    By Anonymous Ron, at 9:44 AM  

  • You forgot the parliamentary flu which bypasses all your scenerios...just who will get it...wait and see.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:00 AM  

  • looks like iggy has fired kinsella and is channeling Dion.


    Pogey in Every Pot. The 45 day work year is fair for all Canadians.

    Bring on an election.

    We can put igyy out of his misery an he can move back to his home and native USA.

    By Blogger Fred, at 11:07 AM  

  • I suggest 3 is the likely scenario.

    Harper really isn't scared of an election, especially if subsidies are yet to be paid. All the better for the Tories.

    The fact stimulus funds can be released through warrants during an election period means spending obligations can be met without unravelling everything they have accomplished.

    Sure, the public is in no mood for an election, but when are we ever? I guarantee you we won't be in the mood in the Fall either and we certainly dodn't want a Christmas election, but we still voted the last time. T

    he fact is once an election is called, people pay attention and do their duty.

    It may seem risky to face the electorate during a recession; however, the advantages are all Harper's in terms of money and readiness. Ignatieff, despite his admirable qualities, is still a rookie without a platform.

    Why wait to fight a battle on your opponent's ground if you can catch him off guard. What would Chretien do?

    By Blogger revanche, at 11:14 AM  

  • Ron, you can't build a reactor in a month, but it seems like a fairly simple calculus on whether one should ever be built or not (the quality-of-living loss of more invasive procedures is tricky to sum but not integral to summing whether there will be a future world market for isotopes). That is, the sexy suffering could've been ended a a year earlier in the future if it would've been correct to build a new reactor last summer (English tenses are as tough to learn as are the French tenses I gave up on long ago). Where this is a political issue is last year there was obvious GOP postering and ignoring ("if u don't like it call election" arrogance) of very real scientific questions about Canadian healthcare from opposition in Parliament.

    By Anonymous Phillip Huggan, at 12:09 PM  

  • Cg, I think game theory is relevant here, but you have to look at repeated games (they also offer part of the reason minority governments are so unstable).

    Here is my rough model of a two-step game (obviously you can go longer).

    (I will use C for cooperate and D for defect, and denote payoffs numerically. I also assume Harper is a first mover because he has to present a budget. Note also that comparisons of payoffs are only relevant within person, not between people)

    Iggy___Harper______payoff (Ig, H)

    There is a Nash equilibrium at cooperate, cooperate. If Harper cooperates, Ignatieff can either cooperate (payoff of 0), or defect by calling an election (payoff of -2). Iggy doesn't want an election where he "carries the nasty", and which will produce at best a weak minority government.

    If Harper defects and Ignatieff caves, Harper gets his best possible outcome (payoff of 1). However, if he defects (ignoring Ignatieff's request) it is unlikely that Ignatieff will cave, preferring a hard-fought election to being painted as Dion II.

    However lets assume that in 2010 the economy is in recovery, which changes the incentives a little. The polls move such that the Liberals would only make modest gains in an election.

    Iggy___Harper______payoff (Ig, H)

    If Harper cooperates, Ignatieff will be indifferent between an election where he is the bad guy, and continuing to support Harper's government.

    If Harper defects, Ignatieff will defect as well for his best possible outcome (an election where he can make modest gains). Knowing this, however, Harper will again cooperate.

    By 2011 the economy is in full and apparent recovery. Harper takes credit for this and surges in the polls.

    Iggy___Harper______payoff (Ig, H)

    Harper can cooperate, in which case, Ignatieff will cooperate too, knowing he would lose in an election.

    Alternately, Harper can defect, in which case, Ignatieff will cooperate, in order to avoid certain defeat in an election. Harper has no dominant strategy, but the "backing down and lovin' it" outcome is the Nash equilibrium.

    At this point we go back to 2009. Assuming I have painted a realistic view of how Harper and Ignatieff view future prospects (my intent was to be illustrative), they would account for future utilities as well as present ones (or not - some people have low or high time preferences, and future results are always more uncertain).

    Assuming Harper's strategy is cooperate, cooperate, defect, what should Ignatieff do?

    If Ignatieff cooperates today, and again in 2010, and then again in 2012, his payoffs are 0,0,-3.

    If Ignatieff cooperates today, and then defects in 2010, his payoffs are 0,0.

    If Ignatieff defects today, his payoffs are -2.

    Therefore Ignatieff's best strategy is to cooperate today, and defect in 2010. This is true even though cooperating is Ignatieff's best response to Harper's CCD strategy in every individual game.

    By Blogger hosertohoosier, at 5:40 PM  

  • Voters are not interested in game theory. What they want is clarity and so far Michael Ignatieff has not been clear. Cheers FernStAlbert

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:56 PM  

  • Anonymous,

    game theory is an analytical tool being used by pundits, rather than something that politicians use consciously. It is handy because it requires little information to build a model, but rarely accurate because people do not always act rationally, and because it is hard to know the actual preference orderings of the individuals involved (or in the case of my model, the future state of the economy).

    That said, it is kind of the point of models to be inaccurate - which is why they are models and not the actual thing. For instance, a model airplane may be a good model of a plane superficially, but if you are interested in aerodynamics, a paper airplane is far better.

    At any rate, if voters are indeed interested in clarity (I'm not sure that is really the case - Dion was pretty clear about his beliefs, as was Stockwell Day, while William Lyon Mackenzie King is our longest serving PM), they benefit from using analytical tools like game theory.

    I think the biggest myth out there is this notion that if we just had the right men everything would work out. In practice, our leaders are constrained by minority government, and problematic political institutions. Obfuscation will often win out over clarity in these settings.

    Pronounced regionalism, the BQ and Green Party, the PC-Alliance merger and the 00's election financing reforms brought about a period of unstable minority governments. There are multiple prospective solutions, none of which are accomplished by hoping for a better caliber of leader (I would argue that we have excellent leaders faced with institutional incentives to act like jerks).

    By Blogger hosertohoosier, at 9:18 PM  

  • Which option counts the number of MPs from each Party who simply don't get back from the bar in time for the vote?

    Will just enough Liberals miss the vote to make their summer dreams come true?

    By Blogger paul.obeda@, at 9:23 PM  

  • The problem with game theory is chaos. All that planning and strategy may look great on the flow charts (control input and output) - but planned strategy doesn't always follow the script. Serendipity occurs because of the uncertainty of the human factor. If man was rational we wouldn't have war, poverty, despair or conspiracy theories. You can't predict or control behaviour. Ask the Mullahs if they are happy with the game that is being played today. Riots and demonstrations, death and destruction. Cheers FernStAlbert

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:38 AM  

  • This can't actually work, I suppose like this.

    By Anonymous sex shop market, at 3:14 AM  

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