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The Predictioneer's Game: Using the Logic of Brazen Self-Interest to See and Shape the Future Paperback – October 12, 2010
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Bruce Bueno de Mesquita is a master of game theory, which is a fancy label for a simple idea: People compete, and they always do what they think is in their own best interest. Bueno de Mesquita uses game theory and its insights into human behavior to predict and even engineer political, financial, and personal events. His forecasts, which have been employed by everyone from the CIA to major business firms, have an amazing 90 percent accuracy rate, and in this dazzling and revelatory book he shares his startling methods and lets you play along in a range of high-stakes negotiations and conflicts.
Revealing the origins of game theory and the advances made by John Nash, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist perhaps best known from A Beautiful Mind, Bueno de Mesquita details the controversial and cold-eyed system of calculation that he has since created, one that allows individuals to think strategically about what their opponents want, how much they want it, and how they might react to every move. From there, Bueno de Mesquita games such events as the North Korean disarmament talks and the Middle East peace process and recalls, among other cases, how he correctly predicted which corporate clients of the Arthur Andersen accounting firm were most likely engaged in fraudulent activity (hint: one of them started with an E). And looking as ever to the future, Bueno de Mesquita also demonstrates how game theory can provide successful strategies to combat both global warming (instead of relying on empty regulations, make nations compete in technology) and terror (figure out exactly how much U.S. aid will make Pakistan fight the Taliban).
But as Bueno de Mesquita shows, game theory isn’t just for saving the world. It can help you in your own life, whether you want to succeed in a lawsuit (lawyers argue too much the merits of the case and question too little the motives of their opponents), elect the CEO of your company (change the system of voting on your board to be more advantageous to your candidate), or even buy a car (start by knowing exactly what you want, call every dealer in a fifty-mile radius, and negotiate only over the phone).
Savvy, provocative, and shockingly effective, The Predictioneer’s Game will change how you understand the world and manage your future. Life’s a game, and how you play is whether you win or lose.
Amazon Exclusive: Bruce Bueno de Mesquita on The Predictioneer's Game
Knowing what will happen around the world can be awfully useful. Forewarned, after all, is forearmed, whether the questions of the day are about business, national security, or our day-to-day lives. The Predictioneer’s Game provides a reliable way to anticipate the future, one you can experiment by using the online version of the game’s program on my website. Suppose, for instance, you want to work out likely future developments in Iran. You can build a data set and test it just as I have done.
We all know that Iran’s Ayatollahs faced a pretty stiff challenge following that country’s June presidential election. As I predicted in February 2009. the Qum clerics, sometimes called the Quietists, are quiet no more and Iran’s Supreme Leader is facing the first real political challenge since Iran’s 1979 revolution. Iran is in for more challenging times in the months to come. You might wonder, what is likely to happen to relations between Iran’s and Iraq’s Shia-dominated governments now that the U.S. is withdrawing most of its forces from Iraq? How will the evolving relations between Iran and Iraq shape the interests of the United States in the region? These are some of the questions I try to answer in The Predictioneer’s Game.
I conclude that if the U.S. fully withdraws, then Iran and Iraq will form a strategic partnership and Iran might even intervene militarily on behalf of Iraq’s Shia government to put down a rising political threat from the pro-Baathist, anti-American, Sunni Vice President of Iraq, Tariq al-Hashimi. Hashimi’s power is predicted to increase markedly while Prime Minister Maliki’s declines if President Obama decides not to maintain 50,000 American troops in Iraq. If, however, he chooses to keep 50,000 or more troops in Iraq after August 2010, then Iran and Iraq will not forge a strategic alliance, Hashimi’s growing power will be contained, and Maliki will remain in charge. And in Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei’s power will continue to decline while the military, the moneyed interests and the Qum clerics will become the backbone of a more moderate, more pragmatic Iranian regime.
Predicting the future--whether you are concerned about Iran or about how best to settle a family crisis--is not all that mysterious. If people do what they think is best for themselves--and who doesn’t--then, with game theory’s help, we can anticipate what they will do. Working out other people’s incentives means also working out how altering their costs or benefits can be used to change their behavior and that, after all, is the essence of predictioneering.--Bruce Bueno de Mesquita--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Mesquita (The Strategy of Campaigning) purports to show how we can predict... and engineer the future with applied game theory in this provocative tutorial. Mesquita has spent 30 years refining his approach to the science of predictioneering, and claims a 90% accuracy rate for his mathematical model that predicts choices based on the self-interest of decision makers. Although he argues that accurate prediction relies on science, he cannot escape the reality that the numbers in his model are based on human, i.e., fallible, assumptions and estimates. The author admits to a few mistakes—he predicted that former first lady Hillary Clinton's health-care reform would become law—but blames any missteps on unforeseen events and uses his model to boldly predict that President Obama is unlikely to quash the terrorist influence in Pakistan and that global warming will prove immune to government prescriptions but will produce its own solutions. Mesquita claims perhaps too much for his game theory model, but his cogently argued and fascinating brief will appeal to anyone interested in complex national-security issues. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
What he does and how he does it has been something of a mystery to me until I read this book, and he gives an excellent walk through of his techniques. It helped me focus on how to better hone my predictions about social and political issues, and it can help you too.
The only problems that I had with the book was that not enough attention was given to the ins and outs of his computer runs. Probability and regression analysis are central to his methods, and the average reader could probably benefit by getting a walk through. Also, the last chapter of the book appears to be irrelevant to me, as he does an autopsy on the Roman Empire instead of tackling more gripping current issues.
These shortcomings are small in comparison to what you'll be able to get out of this book. I strongly recommend it.
Anyway, I've always wanted to learn more about BDM's methods, and to be able to explain those methods to my own students as clearly and concisely as possible, without oversimplifying the complexity of what his models do, or glossing over important details about how they work. I was hoping this book would do just that. In fact, I was hoping this book would be suitable for use in some of my upper-level courses, where I discuss various methods for studying political phenomena such as the causes of war. Unfortunately, the book just didn't quite live up to my hopes or expectations.
The problem has nothing to do with BDM's methods -- which I find intriguing and worthy of serious consideration. The problem is simply that this book doesn't really get into the "meat" of those methods as much as I was hoping it would. I found the treatment far too superficial. The book reads more like a sales brochure than an operator's manual. It tells you what sort of things BDM's models can do. It recounts several anecdotes about how BDM has used these models, both in his scholarly research and in his work as a consultant for government and business. It explains, in very general terms, the underlying logic behind BDM's methods. It makes a case for why it makes good sense for scholars, analysts, and decision makers to rely on predictive models of the sort that BDM has developed. But it doesn't really explain, in a clear, concise, step-by-step way, exactly how these models work to generate their predictions about the future, or how someone would go about setting up and running a predictive model using BDM's methods. Sure, it gives hints here and there. And if you carefully read the entire book, including the appendices, you can piece together enough information from the various illustrations and anecdotes to figure out how to craft a fairly simple, back-of-the-envelope predictive model that will give you a crude prediction of the most likely outcome of a decision process. But nowhere in the book does BDM provide step-by-step instructions for how to build a predictive model and how to use it. There are no formulas, no flow charts, no computer code, no explicit instructions for exactly how to get the predictions you want from the information you have. The lack of explicit instructions for how to build and use the sort of predictive models that BDM has developed is the single biggest weakness of this book.
BDM discusses his method of "predictioneering" mainly by relating a series of anecdotes about work he has done over the years as a scholar and as a consultant. Each anecdote illustrates some specific aspect of the methods he uses to predict -- and in some cases to influence or manipulate -- the outcomes of various decision processes. Although some of these anecdotes were interesting in their own right, and they did serve to illustrate the points BDM was trying to make, I found myself quickly growing bored and frustrated with this approach. Trying to understand BDM's methods by reading this book is akin to trying to piece together a jigsaw puzzle as someone hands you one piece at a time, and insists on telling you a story about each piece before letting you have the next one. After a while, I just wanted to scream: "Enough with the stories already! Just give me all the pieces and show me how to put them together!" This book is, for the most part, a collection of stories about the individual pieces of the puzzle. It never quite gets around to putting all the pieces together (at least not to my satisfaction).
This review has largely been negative; but only because the book failed to live up to my rather high hopes and expectations. I don't want to leave the (false) impression that this book isn't worth reading (I gave it a "four star" rating, after all). There are some very valuable insights here, especially for those readers who may not be at all familiar with BDM's work. I'm certainly glad I read this book; and I enjoyed many parts of it -- especially the final three chapters, where BDM uses his method to shed some light on historical events and to make a few predictions about the likely outcome of a handful of important current events. But, as a political science professor evaluating this book for potential classroom use, I feel that it falls short of what I'm looking for. It gives the reader a taste of what BDM's methods can do; but it doesn't really teach the reader how to use those methods. For the lay reader who is simply curious about how it may be possible to use computer models to predict, and even influence, the future, that may be sufficient. But for students who want to learn to build their own predictive models, it is not.
The basic concept is game theory, where the analyst identifies the prime players and determines, for each, their preferences as to the outcome (including desire to receive public credit or not), relative influence or "clout," and determination about getting his or her way. It is assumed that the players will act "rationally" in pursuing their goals, even if their goals may not be commendable.
Be prepared for what may seem a cynical view of human behavior, i.e., the primary objective of political leaders is to gain and retain power, senior corporate leaders may not be worried about the long-term interests of the shareholders, etc. Also, the belief that some people just cannot be understood, e.g., the North Koreans or suicide bombers, is wrong. You simply need to consult the right experts or sources to come up with the assessments that are needed.
The details of Mesquita's model are not provided (most readers would not be interested anyway), but many applications are described: (a) historical events that could have been predicted and perhaps changed (decline of Sparta after winning the Peloponnesian War, deal struck between Columbus and Ferdinand & Isabella, how the British could have averted World War I); (b) client engagements for the US government (strategic assessments) and private firms (litigation, acquisitions); and (c) academic analyses of several issues that are still pending (e.g., will Iraq and Iran make a deal, will efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions be successful?).
Example: a large company was embroiled in criminal litigation with the US Department of Justice. Mesquita was supposedly able to "engineer" a better settlement for the client than would have been achieved if pre-trial discussions had proceeded along the contemplated lines (with hardliners within the Department of Justice eventually maneuvering their boss into a hardball stance). He did this using the client's data and the logic of his computer model, never mind the merits of the legal issues. Pages 89-101.
Mesquita's claims for his model are suspiciously one-sided. Thus, he mentions only one significant forecasting error: a 1990s prediction that HillaryCare would be enacted did not prove out, supposedly due to a fluke event (the fall from grace of the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Representative Dan Rostenkowski, D-IL)
Some of the cases sound overly simplistic. For example, does one really need a sophisticated computer model to conclude that leaving 50,000 US troops in Iraq for an indefinite period might have a big effect on the future behavior of key Iraqi leaders? And can it really be that the US could persuade Pakistan to pursue internal militant groups more aggressively simply by doubling the foreign aid they are receiving?
The final chapter accepts the manmade global warming theory at face value, but concludes that the nations of the world will not enforce the commitments to curb greenhouse gas emissions that they make. Happily, however, research will establish ways to produce dirt-cheap energy from the wind, sun, etc. Really? Most scientific experts doubt that renewable energy will become genuinely cost competitive any time soon, and this prediction surely did not come out of the author's rigorous computer model.
Conclusion: "The Predictioneer's Game" is very interesting, but read it with a proverbial "grain of salt."