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Game Theory & Russian Expansion

Monday, 17. March 2014 10:09

Obma vs. Putin

With the ouster of the Russian-favored Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovych in a mass protest over his decision to affiliate with the Russian Federation rather than the European Union, Russian President Vladimir Putin has seized the opportunity to essentially claim the Crimeian pennisula, justifying Russian troops in Crimea on the transparent excuse of defending ethnic Russians, who constitute a majority in Crimea. Over the weekend and under the bootheel of a Russian occupation, there was a referendum in Crimea to secede from the Ukraine, which “passed” overwhelmingly. The United States has condemned the Russian agression and denounced the vote as illegal.

Tyler Cowen discusses this foreign policy crisis using game theoretic concepts. Specifically those of credibility, self-interest, and credible threats, i.e. nuclear deterence. Of particular interest is his discussion of tipping points – are we at a tipping point in foreign policy…where the world shifts back to a footing of greater violence to resolve conflicts? A question worthy of consideration, and game theory can help us better understand how this plays out in the real world.

Pointing out how the absence of a nuclear determence (Ukraine gave up its nuclear missles post-Cold War in a pact with Russia and the US that was supposed to ensure Ukrainian territorial integrity), and the lack of US credibility encouraged Russian aggression in the region. Cowen believes market forces may serve as a more effective deterent to Russian imperialism than it has in the past, given that the Russian economy is more tied to the global economy today (particularly through its oil and gas exports). He further argues that weakness in this particular instance may not undermine US credibility to a large extent, given the tenuous nature of our interest in the region. However, he ominously noes: “Still, there may be a net loss of credibility, perhaps a serious one, when the world is uncertain where American self-interest lies.”

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The Wages of Office

Thursday, 20. February 2014 12:16


I mentioned in class a pictorial of presidents before and after their terms of office. Below is a link to presidential aging from LBJ to Barack Obama. Hat tip to student Gabriel Sigler for finding the link.

Time Magazine’s How Presidents Age in Office


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Obama’s Presidential Character

Friday, 18. October 2013 9:25

Angry Obama

When examining the nature of the presidency, we have discussed the importance (or lack there of) of presidential character — the personal and psychological characteristics of the men who have served in the office. In the course of that discussion, we assessed and criticized the most famous (infamous?) effort in that vein: James Barber’s “Presidential Character,” which schemes presidential character in a two-dimensional (four category) typology. One dimension is active/passive, assessing essentially whether they are looking to use the office to accomplish political goals, and the other dimension is positive/negative, essentially refering to their personality (dour and tending toward paranoia versus optimistic and cheery). One of our criticisms of the application of this scheme to presidents by Barber is that it suffers greatly from confirmation bias –tending to rate presidents in the ‘good’ categories based on partisan disposition rather than an objective assessment of their character. See, for example, John Dean’s effort to place Mitt Romney in the Active/Negative category along with George W. Bush. The scheme also suffers from “backfitting” — i.e. identifying bad characteristics with failed presidencies (Nixon) or those which ended badly (LBJ) and identifying good characteristics with those that were successfull (FDR).

All that said, a new article at the National Interest looks at President Obama’s presidential character and attempts to place him in the typology based on his behavior in office over the past five years. In the author’s view, President Obama belongs in the Active / Negative category — the ‘worst’ category for presidents.

Here he makes the case that Obama belongs in the Active category:

He took office with big ambitions and a manifest resolve to change American society in very significant ways. This was manifest particularly in his Affordable Care Act, designed to transform the way we dispense health care in America and increase federal intrusion into a sixth of the current economy (projected to be 20 percent of the U.S. economy by 2020). And he was willing to do this without a single opposition vote, which reflected an almost breathtaking political audacity. His energy bill represents another reflection of his ambitions, and multiple actions in the regulatory realm (some of questionable constitutional validity) reflect also Obama’s preference for America as a European-style social democracy. Since the country has generally shunned such a course since the early years of the New Deal and a brief spurt of federal activity under Lyndon Johnson, Obama’s presidential temperament clearly falls into the Active category.

And here he makes the case he belongs in the Negative category:

But is he a Negative or a Positive? The Positive presidents relished the job and the grand necessity to move events by persuading, cajoling, bargaining with and perhaps occasionally threatening other players in the political arena. The great Active-Positive presidents all had fun in the job. They showed a zest and enthusiasm that was infectious, not just with the American people but, more significantly, with members of Congress.

We sure don’t see any of that with Obama. Edward Klein, a former New York Times Magazine editor and author of a book on Obama called The Amateur, has written that Obama “doesn’t learn from his mistakes, but repeats policies that make our economy less robust and our nation less safe.”

Do we see any presidential zest or political joy in this chief executive? Hardly. He seems always stern, beset, frustrated and angry. It’s as if he expects the opposition to join him in whatever he wants to do for the simple reason that they should want to make his life easier. After all, he’s the president.

Here’s how Barber describes the Active-Negative: “…relatively intense effort and relatively low emotional reward for that effort. The activity has a compulsive quality…His self-image is vague and discontinuous. Life is a hard struggle to achieve and hold power, hampered by the condemnations of a perfectionistic conscience. Active-negative types pour energy into the political system, but it is an energy distorted from within.”

Nothing illustrates this more starkly than Obama’s insistence on shirking his responsibility as president to lead the way out of Washington’s increasingly dire fiscal deadlock, with the government partially shut down and a possible financial default on the horizon. His political petulance is so far from the Positive traits, as defined by Barber, that his categorization as an Active-Negative is unavoidable.

What do you think? Does President Obama belong in the Active/Negative category?

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Tuesday, 21. May 2013 13:03

Albert Pujols Schadenfreude

Joe Posnaski talks about why Albert Pujols doesn’t matter anymore.

Albert Pujols is currently hitting .241 for the Angels. Schadenfreude, sweet Schadenfreude.

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Gay Marriage & Standing

Wednesday, 17. April 2013 13:57

As we discussed in class, standing (or standing to sue) means that the people who have brought the case are the ‘right’ people (parties with an actionable dispute) and are in the ‘right’ jurisdiction. A key issue in the California Prop 8 (which defined marriage as beetween a man and a woman in the California Constitution) is whether those who brought the suit have standing. They are not the state (CA abandoned defending Prop 8 in the early stages of the case) and thus the Court could “punt” on this issue by ruling on standing rather than on the substantive issue of whether gay marriage is protected by the US Constitution. A roundup of the Gay Marriage case (Prop 8) and the issue of standing:

Could Standing Stand in the Way of the Gay Marriage Decision?

Justices Flirt with Throwing Out Prop 8 Case

What’s Standing in the Way of Gay Marriage?

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Habemus Papam!!

Wednesday, 13. March 2013 13:52

Viva il Papa!

We have a new pope!

Pope Francis I is the son of Italian immigrants to Argentina.

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Coolidge & Aggrandizement

Monday, 11. March 2013 11:23

When we discussed the institution of the presidency, we defined the institution’s evolution in terms of aggrandizement – the accumulation of responsibility. We noted 10 presidents who had contributed to the expansion of the office over the course of American history.

Of course, contributing to aggrandizement doesn’t necessarily make a president ‘great.’ Indeed, it may not be a ‘good’ thing at all. Amity Shales offers us an alternative conception of ‘greatness’ for presidents in her depicition of Coolidge as “The Great Refrainer.”

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Close, but no cigar…

Thursday, 22. November 2012 14:28

President Obama won pretty much the same number of electoral votes in 2012 as he did in 2008. However, this fact masks the significant drop in support for Obama across the board in the country. As the below map illustrates, Obama lost support in almost every state. He suffered his biggest drops in support in the West/Northhwest part of the country, excepting the Left Coast. Obama picked up votes in only 5 states, and only in Alaska was it a substantial improvement.


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It was 2004 afterall…

Wednesday, 7. November 2012 10:26

I’ve updated the figure from my 2004-2012 comparison post here. Note that Obama converges on the Bush line 2 days before the end of polling, while Romney converges on the Kerry line the final day of polling. Oddly, and reflective of the national poll “miss” of the election, the RCP average understates Obama’s number by about a percentage point. On election night, Obama underperformed Bush by about 0.7% (50.7% to 50%) in the national popular vote, not the -1.6% underperformance predicted by the RCP average. Either way, this election tracks the 2004 election results fairly well. While Romney outperformed Kerry substantially in the first three weeks of September and the middle of October, he falls back in line with Kerry in the final week of the election. And concomitantly Obama was well underperforming Bush through September and into October, but rallied in the later part of October to nearly match the Bush final tally. Lesson? I guess don’t nominate grey-haired, lanky, white politicians from Massachusetts if you want to beat an incumbent president in a down economy. 😉

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Second Term

Tuesday, 6. November 2012 23:16

Looks like those state polls turned out to have it right afterall. Congrats to President Obama.

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