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Book Details

  • Paperback
  • Bookstore's Wholesale Price: $29.70
  • August 2016
  • ISBN: 978-0-393-26333-6
  • 208 pages
  • Territory Rights: Worldwide

Political Games


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Macartan Humphreys (Author, Columbia University)


Forty-nine insights from the mathematical study of politics.

Political Games uses bold visuals and cases from contemporary politics to present forty-nine of the most compelling insights from game theory, illuminating the common logics underlying political problems. Each game is depicted graphically and accompanied by a concise explanation and technical notes. Collectively, these games reveal profound connections between seemingly disparate social situations, from figuring out when to send troops to the battlefield to strategizing on how to protect the environment.


A concise format that uses graphics to illuminate key principles

Each "game" is presented across a two-page spread. The first page uses a story from contemporary politics and explains how game theory helps us understand it. The facing page depicts the game graphically. Each "game" concludes with a summary of the basic principle and a puzzle for further thought.

A primer on basic games, a guide to reading graphs, and a full glossary

The first sections of Political Games provide students with the basics of game theory and how to read the graphs that appear throughout the book. Glossary terms are bolded throughout and carefully defined at the end of the book.  

A flexible table of contents

The brief format and flexible table of contents of Political Games make it suitable as a main text or supplement for any course where game-theoretic approaches to politics are stressed.  

    What Game Theory Is and Isn’t
    A Primer on Games
    A Guide to Graphs
    Reading Guide
    Outlines for Areas of Specific Study

    Dilemmas of Collective Action
    1. The Tragedy of the Commons (The Prisoner’s Dilemma)
    2. Strategic Substitution (The Game of Chicken)
    3. Strategic Complementarities (The Assurance Dilemma)
    Solutions to Social Dilemmas
    4. The Shadow of the Future (The Folk Theorems)
    5. Playing with Your Progeny (Overlapping Generations)
    6. Playing with the Wrong Goals (The Evolution of Preferences)
    What Groups Want
    7. The Problem with Utilitarians (The Robbins Critique)
    8. Irrational Majorities (Condorcet’s Paradox)
    9. There Is No General Will (Arrow’s Theorem)
    Majority Rule
    10. Majority Rule Aggregates Knowledge (Condorcet’s Jury Theorem)
    11. What’s Special about Simple Majority Rule? (May’s Theorem)
    12. Why the Middle Matters (The Median Voter Theorem)
    13. Voting Weight and Political Influence (Power Indices)
    The Instability of Majority Rule
    14. You Can’t Satisfy All the Majorities Any of the Time (Plott’s Theorem)
    15. Naive Majorities are Capable of Anything (The McKelvey-Schofield Chaos Theorem)
    16. How Sticky are Sticky Rules? (Nakamura’s Theorem)
    17. Sophisticated Majorities Might Also Do Anything (Agenda Manipulation)
    18. Power from Proposing Prospers (Legislative Bargaining)
    19. It’s Hard to Get People to Vote Honestly (The Gibbard-Satterthwaite Theorem)
    Strategic Voting
    20. Is It Rational to Vote? (The Rational Voter Paradox)
    21. Strategic Abstention (The Swing Voter’s Curse)
    22. Conformist Voting (Information Cascades)
    23. Listening to Pain (Costly Signaling)
    24. When to Listen to Threats (Cheap Talk)
    25. Deep Democracy Among Strategists (The Limits of Deliberation)
    26. You Can’t Agree to Disagree (Aumann’s Agreement Theorem)
    27. The Bargaining Problem (The Nash Bargaining Solution)
    28. Alternating Offers (The Ståhl-Rubinstein Solution)
    29. The Benefits of Constraints (The Schelling Conjecture)
    30. Changing Fortunes Threaten Negotiations (The Commitment Problem)
    31. Let the Market Decide (The Coase Theorem)
    32. Auctions (The Revenue Equivalence Theorem)
    33. The Missing Market for Lemons (Asymmetric Information and Market Failure)
    34. The Impossibility of Informationally Efficient Markets (The Grossman-Stiglitz Paradox)
    Institutional Design
    35. Solomon’s Dilemma (Maskin Monotonicity)
    36. How to Choose a Policy (The Clarke-Groves Mechanism)
    37. Not Getting to Yes (The Myerson-Satterthwaite Theorem)
    Political Economy
    38. Throw the Rascals Out (The Logic of Political Accountability)
    39. Why More Inclusive Governments Produce More Public Goods (The Selectorate Model)
    40. Redistribution and Inequality (The Meltzer-Richard Model)
    41. Redistribution and Inefficiency (The Dixit-Londregan Model)
    42. Small Is Beautiful (The Logic of Collective Action)
    43. Surprised by Revolt (Threshold Models)
    44. Dashed Expectations (Psychological Games)
    45. Feigning Tough (Reputation Models)
    Limited Rationality
    46. Strategy without Strategizing (Evolutionary Stability)
    47. Adaptive Play and the Dominance of Fear (Stochastic Stability)
    48. Too Clever by Half (The k-level Model)
    49. The Irrationality of Others (A Theorem of Imitation)
    Appendix A: Foundational Results in the Theory of Games
    A1. Reasoning Backward (Zermelo’s Theorem)
    A2. Solving Zero-Sum Games (The Minimax Theorem)
    A3. A Beautiful World? (Nash’s Theorem)

    Appendix B: Glossary
    Appendix C: Notes