(ECON 159) This course is an introduction to game theory and strategic thinking. Ideas such as dominance, backward induction, Nash equilibrium, evolutionary stability, commitment, credibility, asymmetric information, adverse selection, and signaling are discussed and applied to games played in class and to examples drawn from economics, politics, the movies, and elsewhere.
This course was recorded in Fall 2007.
01 - Introduction: five first lessons
We introduce Game Theory by playing a game. We organize the game into players, their strategies, and their goals or payoffs; and we learn that we should decide what our goals are before we make choices. With some plausible payoffs, our game is a prisoners' dilemma. We learn that we should never choose a dominated strategy; but that rational play by rational players can lead to bad outcomes. We discuss some prisoners' dilemmas in the real world and some possible real-world remedies. With other plausible payoffs, our game is a coordination problem and has very different outcomes: so different payoffs matter. We often need to think, not only about our own payoffs, but also others' payoffs. We should put ourselves in others' shoes and try to predict what they will do. This is the essence of strategic thinking.
02 - Putting yourselves into other people's shoes
At the start of the lecture, we introduce the "formal ingredients" of a game: the players, their strategies and their payoffs. Then we return to the main lessons from last time: not playing a dominated strategy; and putting ourselves into others' shoes. We apply these first to defending the Roman Empire against Hannibal; and then to picking a number in the game from last time. We learn that, when you put yourself in someone else's shoes, you should consider not only their goals, but also how sophisticated are they (are they rational?), and how much do they know about you (do they know that you are rational?). We introduce a new idea: the iterative deletion of dominated strategies. Finally, we discuss the difference between something being known and it being commonly known.
03 - Iterative deletion and the median-voter theorem
We apply the main idea from last time, iterative deletion of dominated strategies, to analyze an election where candidates can choose their policy positions. We then consider how good is this classic model as a description of the real political process, and how we might build on it to improve it. Toward the end of the class, we introduce a new idea to get us beyond iterative deletion. We think about our beliefs about what the other player is going to do, and then ask what is the best strategy for us to choose given those beliefs?
04 - Best responses in soccer and business partnerships
We continue the idea (from last time) of playing a best response to what we believe others will do. More particularly, we develop the idea that you should not play a strategy that is not a best response for any belief about others' choices. We use this idea to analyze taking a penalty kick in soccer. Then we use it to analyze a profit-sharing partnership. Toward the end, we introduce a new notion: Nash Equilibrium.
05 - Nash equilibrium: bad fashion and bank runs
We first define formally the new concept from last time: Nash equilibrium. Then we discuss why we might be interested in Nash equilibrium and how we might find Nash equilibrium in various games. As an example, we play a class investment game to illustrate that there can be many equilibria in social settings, and that societies can fail to coordinate at all or may coordinate on a bad equilibrium. We argue that coordination problems are common in the real world. Finally, we discuss why in such coordination problems--unlike in prisoners' dilemmas--simply communicating may be a remedy.
06 - Nash equilibrium: dating and Cournot
We apply the notion of Nash Equilibrium, first, to some more coordination games; in particular, the Battle of the Sexes. Then we analyze the classic Cournot model of imperfect competition between firms. We consider the difficulties in colluding in such settings, and we discuss the welfare consequences of the Cournot equilibrium as compared to monopoly and perfect competition.