game theory

Political Games presents forty-nine insights from game theory, illuminating the common logics underlying diverse political problems.

  • text: segments available from Norton
  • code: see the accompanying hop package for graphing and solving game (guide); see here for code for endnotes


Payoff matrix produced by hop package


Introduction: What Game Theory Is and Isn’t

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

  1. The Shadow of the Future (The Folk Theorems)
  2. Playing with Your Progeny (Overlapping Generations)
  3. Playing with the Wrong Goals (The Evolution of Preferences)

What Groups Want

  1. The Problem with Utilitarians (The Robbins Critique)
  2. Irrational Majorities (Condorcet’s Paradox)
  3. There Is No General Will (Arrow’s Theorem)

Majority Rule

  1. Majority Rule Aggregates Knowledge (Condorcet’s Jury Theorem)
  2. What’s Special about Simple Majority Rule? (May’s Theorem)
  3. Why the Middle Matters (The Median Voter Theorem)
  4. Voting Weight and Political Influence (Power Indices)

The Instability of Majority Rule

  1. You Can’t Satisfy All the Majorities Any of the Time (Plott’s Theorem)
  2. Naive Majorities are Capable of Anything (The McKelvey-Schofield Chaos Theorem)
  3. How Sticky are Sticky Rules? (Nakamura’s Theorem)


  1. Sophisticated Majorities Might Also Do Anything (Agenda Manipulation)
  2. Power from Proposing Prospers (Legislative Bargaining)
  3. It’s Hard to Get People to Vote Honestly (The Gibbard-Satterthwaite Theorem)

Strategic Voting

  1. Is It Rational to Vote? (The Rational Voter Paradox)
  2. Strategic Abstention (The Swing Voter’s Curse)
  3. Conformist Voting (Information Cascades)


  1. Listening to Pain (Costly Signaling)
  2. When to Listen to Threats (Cheap Talk)
  3. Deep Democracy Among Strategists (The Limits of Deliberation)
  4. You Can’t Agree to Disagree (Aumann’s Agreement Theorem)


  1. The Bargaining Problem (The Nash Bargaining Solution)
  2. Alternating Offers (The Ståhl-Rubinstein Solution)
  3. The Benefits of Constraints (The Schelling Conjecture)
  4. Changing Fortunes Threaten Negotiations (The Commitment Problem)


  1. Let the Market Decide (The Coase Theorem)
  2. Auctions (The Revenue Equivalence Theorem)
  3. The Missing Market for Lemons (Asymmetric Information and Market Failure)
  4. The Impossibility of Informationally Efficient Markets (The Grossman-Stiglitz Paradox)

Institutional Design

  1. Solomon’s Dilemma (Maskin Monotonicity)
  2. How to Choose a Policy (The Clarke-Groves Mechanism)
  3. Not Getting to Yes (The Myerson-Satterthwaite Theorem)

Political Economy

  1. Throw the Rascals Out (The Logic of Political Accountability)
  2. Why More Inclusive Governments Produce More Public Goods (The Selectorate Model)
  3. Redistribution and Inequality (The Meltzer-Richard Model)
  4. Redistribution and Inefficiency (The Dixit-Londregan Model)


  1. Small Is Beautiful (The Logic of Collective Action)
  2. Surprised by Revolt (Threshold Models)
  3. Dashed Expectations (Psychological Games)
  4. Feigning Tough (Reputation Models)

Limited Rationality

  1. Strategy without Strategizing (Evolutionary Stability)
  2. Adaptive Play and the Dominance of Fear (Stochastic Stability)
  3. Too Clever by Half (The k-level Model)
  4. 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)