From Nash to Macchiavelli: How to win and lose?

From Nash to Macchiavelli: How to win and lose?

Murat Yetkin
From Nash to Macchiavelli: How to win and lose

Mathematician Nash (L) talks with the Daily News editor-in-chief Murat Yetkin.

It has always been in my mind to ask somebody if it is ever possible, in an environment of economic or political competition, for all parties in the game to win. The “win-win” idea has been a part of the world of economics and politics since Game Theory became popular, not after the 1994 Nobel Prize for Economics was shared between three mathematicians who devised it, but particularly after the 2001 movie “A Beautiful Mind,” based on the biography of one of them, John Nash.

Two of the three, Nash and Reinhard Selten, were in Istanbul last week to take part in the 4th International Congress of the Game Theory Society, hosted by Bilgi University. There were two other Game Theory-focused Nobel laureates at the congress - Eric Maskin and Roger Myerson, who together shared the 2007 Economics Prize - and it was a feast of knowledge for those interested.

Invited by Ali Rıza Bozkurt, one of the sponsors of the closing dinner party, I took the opportunity and found myself sitting next to this “beautiful mind” on a Bosporus boat trip before a beautiful sunset. I also took the opportunity to ask the question to the man himself: “Is it possible for all parties to lose?”
Nash smiled and asked back: “Why did you ask the question?”

“Politics,” I said, “everybody is talking about a ‘win-win’ game. Is it possible for everyone to lose?”
“It is possible,” Nash said, “If all parties play negative.” But are there any examples that we can think of? He could not give an example right then, but there are cases such as the “Prisoners’ Dilemma,” which basically says that if there is an atmosphere of mistrust among competing parties and if the parties focus on the others’ losing – rather than their own winning – then it could well be possible that all the participants lose.

Considering the widespread mistrust among competing parties in the intermingled problems of Syria, the Middle East, Iraq and Iran, then a “lose-lose” situation could be possible, I thought.

I asked Professor Nash what he felt about the “win-win” theory being so much referred to by politicians. “This is not something new,” he answered. “I tried to formulate it, but what (Niccolo) Machiavelli wrote to his Prince long ago, observing the corridors of the Vatican, is about a sort of ‘win-win’ situation itself.”

Trust and positivity brings you the game, while mistrust and negativity could take it away from you. That is the lesson from the professor.