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Game Theory and politics: The two-party system isn’t broken

Written By | Mar 29, 2018
Game Theory and Politics, Ben Shapiro, Two-Party System,

Ben Shapiro speaking at the 2016 Politicon at the Pasadena Convention Center in Pasadena, California. Attribute to Gage Skidmore used under free use

COLORADO SPRINGS: In Townhall, Ben Shapiro writes about A New Kind of Gridlock in Washington, D.C. Sadly, there’s nothing new about it at all. Unfortunately, politicians have learned how to game the system. His thesis is that two-party politicians campaign on hot-button issues, only to do nothing about them once elected. The purpose is to energize the base to get out and vote for them. Its game theory and politics.

He writes, correctly, that the Founders preferred gridlock over radical change and so set up the national government with checks and balances to pit ambition against ambition.

But he goes on to say that

“They could not have foreseen our politicians.”

In fact, yes they did. The system operates exactly as it was designed to.

Two Parties plus one

His analysis is somewhat superficial. It resembles the oft-quoted Libertarian position that we don’t have a two-party system but rather a “duopoly” in which Republicans want to spend on defense and Democrats want to spend on social welfare.

The omnibus bill passed last week spent heavily on both priorities. Win-win for the politicians, lose for the people.

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Say the Republicans had put everything they wanted into the omnibus bill and cut everything they promised to. Say it passed the House. What chance would it have had of passing out of the Senate, with McConnell going with the 60-vote majority?


What passed is what was possible to pass.

Politics, it is said, is the art of the possible.

Great change is only made when Democrats/Progressives have a super-majority, as in the New Deal, Johnson’s Great Society New Deal II, Obama’s Obamacare. Remember that when Democrats lost that 60th seat to Scott Brown they resorted to illegal chicanery to pass the bill anyway.

Republicans never move the ball in their direction because they never have supermajorities and because they lack the courage to stick together when they do have an ordinary majority.

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Never forget that Progressivism started in the Republican party and has never totally been replaced by Conservatism.

The only exception in the history of the Republic is during and after the Civil War when Republicans ruled because Southern Democrats seceded from the union.

Game Theory and Politics

Another way to understand the situation is by using game theory, with two opponents. The four possible outcomes are win-win, lose-lose, and two win-lose results, with one party or the other coming out ahead.

The Democrats are always out for a win-lose scenario.

They are cutthroat and will stop at nothing to beat their opponents who they see as evil. They even prefer a lose-lose scenario to letting the Republicans win at anything.

That’s why the Democrats will “shut down” the federal government rather than compromise.

The Republicans will not. They’re looking for that elusive win-win.

That’s also why every Republican victory is temporary and every Democrat victory permanent.

The only way to stop this cycle, if there is one, is to replace the squishy RINO progressives in the GOP with more and more Conservatives.

And then watch them like hawks.


Al Maurer

Al Maurer is a political scientist and founder of The Voice of Liberty. He writes on topics of limited government and individual rights.