In 1960, at the height of the Cold War, Nobel Prize-winning American economist Thomas Schelling  introduced the world to his “theory of strategy,” an adaptation of game theory to the world of international relations. In his book, The Conflict of Strategy, Schelling coined the concept of a “focal point” (now known as a “Schelling point”) to describe how individuals and nations reach an agreement when bargaining with each other. The process involves anticipating what the other person or country might do. To demonstrate, in the 1950s, Schelling asked a group of students to pick a place in New York City where they could meet a stranger without having coordinated a place and time beforehand. Without knowing what any of the other students said, most of them not only picked the information booths at Grand Central Station, but nearly all chose to arrive at noon.The suggestion that the theorists reach is one we agree with independently -- the Caliphate must be destroyed.
Schelling later conducted a second experiment. He gave a group of people sheets of paper with 16 squares. He promised a prize if they all checked the same box. Statistically speaking, only six percent should have checked the same one. In reality, 60 percent checked the top left square. This means that people can reach the same conclusion when properly motivated without having even spoken to one another.
Although Schelling certainly could not have foreseen the application of this idea to defeating ISIS, it is eerily appropriate. If we apply the 16 squares scenario with radicalization, what we are trying to prevent is, in effect, this “psychic moment,” as Schelling calls it, when likeminded individuals all come to check the same box: engage in terrorism. Around 20,000 plus foreign fighters, many of whom grew up in prosperous, democratic countries, have already done so.
The Game Theory of Terrorism
By Grim on Thursday, December 10, 2015