Okay, Adam, now we’ve got a genuine academic working on this with us.
Over at his blog Cheap Talk, Sandeep Baliga–who teaches mangerial economics at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and specializes in game theory–takes a look at our ongoing effort to frame the decisionmaking involved in the House health care vote. He thinks this is actually a game of “Chicken”:
Tumulty suggests the underlying game is the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Some of her commenters suggest the game is similar to the free-rider problem is provision of pubic goods. The free-rider problem is very similar to a Prisoner’s Dilemma so really the commenters are echoing her interpretation though they may not realize it.
I claim the interesting version of the game for Democratic Representatives in conservative districts is Chicken. Two cars race towards each other on a road. Each driver can swerve out of the way or drive straight. If one swerves while the other does not, the former loses and the latter wins. If neither swerves, there is a terrible crash. If both swerve, both lose. A variant on this game is immortalized in the James Dean movie “Rebel without a Cause”.
And he adds:
Chicken has asymmetric equilibria where one player always swerves and the other drives straight. This corresponds to the case where the conservative Democrats know which of them will fall on their swords and vote for the bill and the rest of them can then vote against it. This is the best equilibrium for Obama as the Senate Bill definitely passes the House. But there is a symmetric equilibrium where each conservative Rep’s strategy is uncertain. They might vote for it, they might not. There is no implicit or explicit coördination among the voters in this equilibrium. This equilibrium is bad for Obama. Sometimes lots of people vote for the bill and it passes with excess votes. But sometimes it fails.
There is lots of strategy involved in trying to influence which equilibrium is played. And there’s lots of strategy among the Reps themselves to generate coordination. If you can commit not to vote for the bill, Obama and Pelosi are not going to twist your arm and they’ll focus on the lower-hanging fruit. Commitment is hard. You can make speeches in your district saying you’ll never vote for the bill. Margie M-M did this but a call from the President persuaded her to flip anyway. Republicans are going to emphasize the size of the independent vote to convince the undecideds that they have a dominant strategy to vote against the bill. And the President is going to hint he’s not going to help you in your re-election campaign if you vote against the bill. Etc., etc.
So, if the Senate bill is finally voted on, as we creep up to 200 votes or so, we’ll see Chicken played in the House. We’ll see who lays an egg.