The Trump Fallacy

Dixit and Nalebuff have great skill in popularizing game theory. Their work is full of interesting examples and useful ways of looking at sometimes tricky concepts. They are strong believers in having theory to back up ideas which I appreciate. In their words theory “…distills the essential similarities in apparently dissimilar contexts and enables one to think about them in a unified and therefore simplified manner.”  (Dixit and Nalebuff, 2008, page 39). Theory helps you create an idea of what the world is like and so create sensible and coherent ways to deal with it. Without theory even if you have data you merely have anecdotes which may or may not apply to the situation at hand.

The problem of incoherent ideas brings us to the current U.S. President. To my mind he seems to epitomize a widespread but erroneous way of thinking that might be called The Trump Fallacy. “Many people’s intuition about games… that each game must have a winner and a loser. …such games of pure conflict are quite rare. Games in economics, where players engage in voluntary trade for mutual benefit, can gave outcomes where everyone wins.” (Dixit and Nalebuff, 2008, 146). Many games aren’t the sort where there is a winner and a loser. If one person benefits this typically doesn’t mean someone else must be losing. Often all win, and very often all lose, together. There are numerous examples in public policy where all benefit together. Just because other nations are happy with a deal doesn’t mean that the U.S. is being suckered. This sort of zero-sum thinking is disappointing to see.

It is a shame that Trump didn’t read Dixit and Nalebuff’s excellent work (or independently develop some coherent ideas of his own) before becoming President. Life has many opportunities for collaboration for mutual benefit. The good news is that the Trump Fallacy may be widespread but I am confident that it can be overcome.

Read: Avinash K. Dixit and Barry J. Nalebuff (2008) The Art of Strategy: A Game Theorist’s Guide to Success in Business and Life, W.W.Norton & Company, New York