I am subscribed to the Fermat’s Library newsletter. Their paper of the week is The Economic Organization of a P.O.W. Camp. The author, R. A. Radford, observed the life of the prisoners and their economic interactions. I guess this is a coping mechanism in a way. Use what you know to understand the situation you are in and survive the best way you can.

Radford’s paper and the use of cigarettes as currency reminded me also of the use of rum as currency in 1790 Australia (the most popular form in fact). Which also came with its own set of problems: Farmers had no incentive to produce crops only to be paid in rum. They had to pay workers in rum and with many workers drinking their pay, productivity was lowered.

It reminds me also of the book Games Prisoners Play, where its author Marek M. Kaminsky, while imprisoned in Communist Poland, started mapping the dynamics between groups of prisoners and analysing them using Game Theory.

The (next) government game

Assume that after elections two coalitions are formed. Let’s call them Player1 and Player2. Player1, although they can rule, wants Player2 to join them in forming a Government. Player2 refuses and aims for reelection where they believe that they will be in a better position. It is all a game of success and failure on the government to be formed:

The Government Game

So in the case where Player 2 believes that Player 1 cannot make it alone, they bet on their downfall in order to win the next elections whenever they are. And while Player 1 knows that they cannot make it, even with Player 2 on board, they push for their participation so as to make them irrelevant too in the next elections.

Any similarities to present day politics is purely coincidental.

Game Theory and the Cyber domain

According to this leak:

Russia alleged that an arms control race was unfolding in cyberspace and that constraints on state capabilities were necessary

Now where had I heard that before? It was in 2009 while watching a presentation given by iDefense’s Eli Jellenc. In it he presented the following variation of the Prisoner’s Dilemma:

The Security Dilemma

The basic premise of the model is that efforts to increase your own security makes others insecure. In Cyber warfare it is easier to attack than to defend a complex system (or at least it feels that way since time is on the side of the persisent, patient attacker). It is also very difficult at times to distinguish between offense and defense and the fact of the matter is that both the digital underground and the private sector have well established offensive capabilities for hire. The result of the situation is that everybody is forced to deploy offensive capabilies with a spiral of mistrust being built at the same time as a side effect.

Indeed an example of why such a spiral of death is formed is given in “Strategy and the Revolution of Military Afairs: From Theory to Policy“:

“Why, foreign leaders ask, would the world’s only superpower seek radical improvement of its armed forces in the absence of a clear threat? Given the expense of accumulating national power, some may assume it is meant to be used and conclude that the United States is improving its military capabilities in order to impose its will on others. The United States can either accept such suspicions or find a new, less intimidating method of pursuing the revolution in military affairs, perhaps through greater cooperation with potential allies. The problem is that such cooperation could speed the dissemination of new technology, techniques, and ideas, and thus contribute to the emergence of challengers. But if the United States unilaterally pursues the RMA, other states will respond, whether symmetrically or asymmetrically. In turn, knowing the benign intentions of the United States, American leaders and planners will consider this threatening. Why, they will ask, would other states seek to improve their military capability unless contemplating aggression? Vigorous American pursuit of the RMA may make other nations feel less secure and their response will make the United States feel less secure. The result may be a spiral of mutual misperception and a new arms race, albeit a qualitative rather than quantitative one.”

Ironic how I was scolded in a meeting a couple of months ago for mentioning Game Theroy as a tool to study strategies (“Theory is one thing, reality is another”) when in fact we see how such simple models are suited to study reality.

But what do I know dear officer? In his “How cyberattacks threaten real-world peace” TEDxParis talk (a quick summary of which you can read here), Guy-Philippe Goldstein presented the following 1978 model by Rober Jervis in “Cooperation under the security dilemma“:

Cyberwar Game

As Jervis puts it:

“The fear of being exploited is what drives the security dilemma”

Game Theory and the Cyber Domain? What do I know. I simply read about stuff.

Further reading:

Now I am off to read “Security and Game Theorythanks to Sakis.

“died of states’ rights”

I am reading the first paragraph of “Local Defense and the Overthrow of the Confederacy“†:

“In recent years it is becoming more apparent to students of Confederate history that the Confederacy collapsed more from internal than from external causes and the most disastrous of these internal ailments was the attempt of the southern people to practice their theory of state rights during the war. This destroyed the possibility of cooperation, embittered and demoralized the people, and pitted the state governments against the Confederate government like hostile powers. This struggle between the states and the Confederate government extended into many fields, mostly related to the conduct of the war. One of the most important of these fields was the matter of local defense. It is the object of this paper to present a careful study of the policy of local defense in the Confederacy, and show how it contributed to the downfall of that government.”

How’s that any different from the EU (the Confederacy) and the financial crisis (the conduct of war) it is in right now?

[†] – Interesting paper for Game Theory newbies by the way


Unlike what one might expect from the title, parentonomics is not Jo Frost disguised as an economist, nor an economist playing Jo Frost. Joshua Gans is a father of three, applying his scientific discipline into parenting and documenting the results. And he does so in an instructive and humorous way. I wish I could write my experiences with my three children in a similar way. Maybe someone else can document parenting while viewing it though an algorithmic or engineering prism.

In my opinion this is a book for fathers. Other books on parenting that I have checked have a more motherly approach, so this is a refreshing change. Because unlike the “no two kids are the same” principle, significant others’ reactions seem to follow a pattern* regardless of the number of children. Soon to become fathers prepare yourselves.

I really liked the fact that this book discusses parenting of three. Most of the literature that I have browsed seems to address the issue of the first (or single) child in the family. One would expect that after the first child one is prepared to deal with the second (and third), but hey you are not: Family management complicates exponentially. And in my case (child 0 first+, twins next) it complicates even faster than Gans’.

One interesting observation that occurred to me while reading the book is that all parents seem to be non systematically trained game theorists (game practitioners maybe?). Which is basically the reason why many strategies we employ as parents are flawed or simply not working. All in all this is a good book that has advice to offer and data to back up the opinions it carries. I really enjoyed reading it.

[*] – Either there is a pattern, or our wives would definitely be friends (or both).

[+] – Gans enumerates his children as Child 1, 2 and 3. I prefer the K&R approach :)