John von Neumann For President
And why Donald Trump doesn't play chess
The Belt & Road Today
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Chess is not a game. And Donald Trump does not play chess.
According to John von Neumann, “Chess is a well-defined form of computation. You may not be able to work out the answers, but in theory, there must be a solution, a right procedure in any position.” No one can be a good chess player who isn’t able to honestly evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of his position. Donald Trump doesn’t have the ability to honestly and objectively evaluate anything, particularly when such evaluation results in a negative assessment of his position. He trades in conspiracy theories, revealing a poor ability (or unwillingness) to think critically, and he compulsively over-evaluates his own hand. Even if he did play chess, he would suck at it.
“‘Now, real games,’ John von Neumann said, ‘are not like that at all. Real life is not like that. Real life consists of bluffing, of little tactics of deception, of asking yourself what is the other man going to think I mean to do. And that is what games are about in my theory.’” - Duke, Annie. Thinking in Bets (p. 20). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Widespread study of Game Theory arose in the 1950s when it was clear that the Soviets had developed a nuclear weapon and the Cold War began. Given what we have witnessed over the last year, it is time to take those Game Theory books off the shelves where they have been gathering dust and start reading them again.
In addition to everything else he accomplished in his short life, John von Neumann is also the father of game theory. After finishing his day job on the Manhattan Project, he collaborated with Oskar Morgenstern to publish Theory of Games and Economic Behavior in 1944. The Boston Public Library’s list of the “100 Most Influential Books of the Century” includes Theory of Games. While undoubtedly influential, it is a mathematics-heavy tome and probably one of the least read books in the top 100.
What goes around, comes around and it makes sense to try to understand the Trump administration’s game. From what I can see, Donald Trump is not utilizing game theory in the traditional sense. In actuality, he has no need to win anything except the November 2020 election. However, for him, there is an alternate “win” state: maintaining the illusion of power. This is a game, in essence, where a player can dominate by keeping the others fighting among themselves.
If looked at in this context, he is doing a superb job. He spins conspiracy theories daily, fans the flames of racism, partisanship, nationalism, and propagates a divisive “us versus them” mentality. He tweets incessantly and does and says things (however outrageous) specifically to dominate the news cycle.
The goal? He needs to make sure that no player, no alliance, will become strong enough to eliminate any of the others, particularly himself. Winning, for Donald Trump, comes from creating a state in which no one else can win. And power is maintained by keeping others divided, confused, frustrated, and angry.
This November America will be relying on the wisdom of the crowd to elect a president. Right now we all need to believe the wisdom of the crowd will triumph over the plans of a powerful few.
In this fascinating book, The Wisdom of Crowds, New Yorker business columnist James Surowiecki explores a deceptively simple idea: Large groups of people are smarter than an elite few, no matter how brilliant—better at solving problems, fostering innovation, coming to wise decisions, even predicting the future. - Amazon.com
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