Monthly Archives: February 2019

Robert Agrees

From the entry on John Forbes Nash, Jr. in the Library of Economics and Liberty Encyclopedia.

Aside from being the first explanation of Nash Equilibrium that Robert can claim to understand, it also includes Nash’s feelings about politics.  Nice!

“Nash’s major contribution is the concept of equilibrium for noncooperative games, which later came to be called a Nash equilibrium. A Nash equilibrium is a situation in which no player, taking the other players’ strategies as given, can improve his position by choosing an alternative strategy. Nash proved that, for a very broad class of games of any number of players, at least one equilibrium exists as long as mixed strategies are allowed. A mixed strategy is one in which the player does not take one action with certainty but, instead, has a range of actions he might take, each with a positive probability.

A simple example of a Nash equilibrium is the prisoners’ dilemma. Another example is the location problem. Imagine that Budweiser and Miller are trying to decide where to place their beer stands on a beach that is perfectly straight. Assume also that sunbathers are located an equal distance from each other and that they want to minimize the distance they walk to get a beer. Where, then, should Bud locate if Miller has not yet chosen its location? If Bud locates one-quarter of the way along the beach, then Miller can locate next to Bud and have three-quarters of the market. Bud knows this and thus concludes that the best location is right in the middle of the beach. Miller locates just slightly to one side or the other. Neither Bud nor Miller can improve its position by choosing an alternate location. This is a Nash equilibrium.

. . .

As readers of Sylvia Nasar’s biography of Nash, A Beautiful Mind, know, Nash contended with schizophrenia from the late 1950s to the mid-1980s. As Nash put it in his Nobel autobiography, “I later spent time of the order of five to eight months in hospitals in New Jersey, always on an involuntary basis and always attempting a legal argument for release.” His productivity suffered accordingly. But he emerged from his mental illness in the late 1980s. In his Nobel lecture, Nash noted his own progress out of mental illness:

Then gradually I began to intellectually reject some of the delusionally influenced lines of thinking which had been characteristic of my orientation. This began, most recognizably, with the rejection of politically-oriented thinking as essentially a hopeless waste of intellectual effort.”

First (informal) Tournament

Third place!

d’Artagnan strikes . . . .


Dixie Name Change

A few people have asked Robert how he feels about whether the Dixie School District Board should change the district name.  Here’s his best shot at an answer.

* * *

I do not find the name “Dixie” objectionable in any way. Indeed, the word means very little to me. That said, if evidence were presented that the name was given to the district for offensive reasons, or the word Dixie was offensive at the time of naming or has an offensive meaning at this time, then, of course I would be in favor of changing the name.

If the school board drops the name Dixie, it should do so based on evidence presented by those who desire change. This might include evidence of historical events, literature or news reviews, linguistic review, or simply a poll as to the meaning of the word “Dixie” as given by speakers of the English language.

Changing the name of a long-time public institution is dangerous business. It should not be done without good reason. Certainly, the decision must not be made out of a desire to gain political notoriety or advantage, or in order to ameliorate a sense of powerlessness. Nor should the decision be made out of notions of social tribe or out of friendship. The decision should not be born out of fuzzy historical beliefs, disinformation, hysteria, or Internet chatter. The decision should not be made out of fatigue or for no other reason than “why not?”

Community discussion does not replace the need for evidence.  Developing and presenting the evidence needed to justify change requires work. I could be missing something, but I am not seeing anyone doing that work. Alas, it is much easier to talk than to work.

Rather than requiring evidence to decide the matter, the school board may make its decision by attempting to mirror the overall public opinion of residents in the district. But it does so at its peril.

The better course is to make a decision based on evidence and logic. Any decision by the board ought to be guided by these two principles, and any decision should be accompanied by written reasoning. The reputation of the board will not survive a decision made in any other way.

Robert Pierce