[INSIGHT]No 'Nash equilibrium' in politics

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[INSIGHT]No 'Nash equilibrium' in politics

"A Beautiful Mind," the movie depicting the life of the celebrated mathematician John Nash, won the Motion Picture Academy's "best picture" award. The movie was based on the biography of Mr. Nash written by Sylvia Nasar, a New York Times reporter. She completed the work after long research and a series of interviews. The world praised the young mathematics genius when Mr. Nash was 20, but he was gradually forgotten after becoming schizophrenic at age 31. In 1994, at 66 and long forgotten, Mr. Nash won the Nobel prize. "A Beautiful Mind" was an intense human drama of triumph accomplished by the unfortunate genius and his wife.

Mr. Nash completed his dissertation, only 27 pages long, when he was 21. The famous "Nash equilibrium" is based on that paper. He proved that individuals can resolve the infinite loops arising from logical reasoning: "I think that he thinks that I think that," etc. A Nash equilibrium occurs when each player simultaneously makes his best response to others' actions. When the participants of a game reach the same conclusion using particular strategies, and all of them are satisfied with the result and have no intention of changing strategies, the condition is called a Nash equilibrium. The principle illustrates that an economy is not subject to the uncertainty of an invisible hand; there is a logical strategy that can maximize one's own profits and minimize losses.

In poker games, stock investments and election strategy, everyone believes only in his own victory. Applying the concept of a Nash equilibrium to such a game is rare. My victory over other people's sacrifice and loss is hard to achieve. An equilibrium in which both parties believe they have won should be the best: We often forget this simple principle.

An election is, in some sense, a game. Other contenders think of what I think. When I draw up a strategy based on that thought, my rivals will come up with new strategies based on my new thought. That is how election strategies are prepared. When my opponent attracts votes with money, I plan to criticize him by drawing attention to his personal scandal. That was how election strategies in Korea were developed in the past, and it has not changed lately.

When doubts about the Kim Dae-jung Peace Foundation arise, the ruling party raises suspicions about the opposition party president's luxurious house. When some candidates drop out of the presidential primaries, those remaining invoke conspiracy theories, throwing the primaries into chaos. How long do we have to face dogfights in the mud with conspiracies and rumors?

The election strategies politicians devise are an easy way to fail in both the party primaries and the presidential race. In these dogfights, there will be no winner. Although some call the Millennium Democratic Party's presidential primaries a partial success, the ruling party has failed to create a Nash equilibrium. From the early stage of the game, when seven candidates participated, to the middle of the race so far, there have been no winners. The election game has been embroidered with slanders in the belief that my opponents' unhappiness is my happiness. It has not been a game in which participants are satisfied through devising best-response and optimal strategies; it has been an ugly game in which each party works to maximize the others' discontent. The election is a chance to praise the best of each other within the ruling party, but no one has done this, and all the candidates are walking a high wire that may snap at any time.

Mr. Nash first displayed the symptoms of schizophrenia at 31. Entering a faculty lounge with a copy of the New York Times in his hand, he shouted that he saw a secret code in the newspaper. Schizophrenia is a form of paranoia; a sufferer will believe that there are hidden codes in a telephone number, a red necktie, a dog walking on the street or a sentence in the New York Times. Maybe our presidential candidates are all suffering from paranoia: All anti-Kim Dae-jung votes are mine, all youngsters will support me, the supporters of modernization will vote for me, and everyone is stabbing me in the back. The candidates believe in such obsessions and delusions. That is why a Nash equilibrium cannot be achieved.

Politicians who hope for a political reform by throwing away the relics of the old three-Kims era should escape from paranoia as soon as possible. They should present strategies to foster our people's dreams and hopes through practical blueprints. How to lead the World Cup games to success, how to increase exports, how to develop the west coast and how to boost trade with China are examples of such visions. The candidate who breaks off from paranoia first will win the game of his life - the presidential race.


The writer is the editorial page editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kwon Young-bin

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