It came to me today that we can learn from the battle to elect a Speaker of the House of Representatives. There are, of course, many lessons that can be learned but there are two that can easily over looked. The effects and costs of ”Zero Sum” politics and a ”Three Party” system.
Lets look at the last first, a more than two political parties in the House of Representatives. Usually when people think about having more than two national political parties they think that everything is decided by a simple ”plurality” (the most votes) wins the issue. Unfortunately that is not the case. There are times that the issue needs a majority + 1 of the persons voting to decided the issue. In other cases it can take 2/3 vote. So let us look at the simplest case, three parties in the House and lets call the X, Y, Z. and lets give them the following members X:200, Y: 202, and Z: 33.
If the vote needs only a simple majority of persons voting to pass and the Y’s all vote in favor it passes. but it needs 50% +1 of the total persons voting it wont pass unless it can pick up 16 votes from the X or Z parties. Sounds easy, right? It’s not because you have to be sure not to loose any votes in your horse trading and this can be as easy as make a deal with the worst enemy of someone on your side. If you don’t believe me go back to the 1950/60 and look at the problems they had when the sub group of the Democratic Party known as the Dixicrats held sway in the old south.
This issue with a strong an united sub-group or even a formalized caucus is what the GOP leadership is having to deal with. The real issue is not who will be Speaker, but who has the power to stop anything they want, when ever they want. This is who will control the House of Representatives in the 118th Congress.
Now lets get to the first lesson, the effects of using ”Zero Sum game theory” in politics. Just for those of you who are not very clear of just what I’m talking about just go to this link (Zero Sum). With that lets just go with the back idea that in every transaction you can only win or loose. It is strictly Binary. There are no ties if a deal/transaction is made. You can have a ’tie’, of a kind, when a trade/deal is not made. Both sides loose. Now lets add just a little spice into the game. All players must be seen to be winners to stay in the game.
Now lets say your in a league where if the people watching it decide you are a ”looser” you are removed from play, forever. An now lets add in that it doesn’t mater how successful you wins are compared to your losses:
example you make 10 deals where you make $100 and 20 deals where you loose $40 for a total of $60 in the black but all your judged by is 20 losses to 10 wins. in basic zero sum game theory every win is exactly equal to every loss. This is really true. Now lets and in just a little more hate to the game.
Lets say that what constitutes a win/loss is variable? Lets look at a chess move for example. I get to move a knight and it can do one of three things: first it can just move to a empty space. Second it can take a pawn and third it can take a Bishop. in the simple zero sum game only the first move would be seen as a loss for me and all the others a win. now lets judge by the value of the pice taken, the only the third move would be a win. An now lets do real chess, and the first move places my opponent into check-mate.
An now I can hear you all saying that chess is a zero-sum game. An it is, an it is an excellent example of why it is not as simple as counting win/loss. You have to keep the end objective in mind. The value of any move is not just the value of the piece taken, but the position the trade puts you in. An this is the trap people who don’t understand game theory fall into. The only see the immediate value in the trade and not where it will place you for future trades.
This is the trap some of the members of the GOP in the House are falling into. They see every deal as just win/loss. Ignoring the relative value of the things exchanged, nor the relative position each member of the trade is after the move.
So I say to them, if you insist on using Zero-Sum game theory for politics remember chess. Chess is a zero-sum game but every move is not equal, to win you need to think many many move ahead and finally remember that all optimally plaid games end in a draw. In politics this means nothing gets done. Not something the electorate like to see in the next election.