Bargaining with Your Right Brain

A friend outside of political science linked me this post asking if we deal with bargaining models in political science.  For those of you who are not in the know, one of the mainstays of contemporary International Relations game theory treats war as a bargaining process between states.  As such, the author argues that traditional bargaining models in economics are too simplistic to truly capture the moves that exist in a negotiation between two actors in the market (the two examples he provides deals with bargaining over small purchase).   While scholars of the Cuban Missile crisis may vehemently obejct to this, I wonder if the bargaining analogue for war is more appropriate that the actual base material of economic bargaining given that many of the moves (bluffs, positioning, offers) illustrated in the literature are concrete actions (troop deployments, readying forces, sanctions, etc) as opposed to mostly rhetoric and body language. 

Michael A. Allen

About Michael A. Allen

Michael is an Assistant Professor in Political Science at Boise State University with a focus in International Relations, Comparative Politics, and Methodology (quantitative and formal). His work includes issues related to military basing abroad, asymmetric relations, cooperation, and conflict. He received his Ph.D from Binghamton University in 2011.

One Reply to “Bargaining with Your Right Brain”

  1. Hmm… I hadn’t thought of international relations when I wrote the piece. I can’t quite parse your last sentence (couple of typos in there somewhere?), but I think you are suggesting that international relations have more real/substantive moves that can be made, and therefore game theory applies more, correct?
    I can see why this is plausible. There is not much room for, say, Schelling-like brinkmanship in small retail bargaining (unless it is things like starting to take money out of your wallet…).
    But OTOH, countries DO have big grand narratives that inform their negotiating posture far more powerfully than rational concerns. Some bits make it into formally stated doctrine (known or unknown to the other side), but other bits are left to the individuals.
    I’d say the jury is still out on whether international relations conform better to narrative bargaining or game-theoretic. I’d suspect that in relatively symmetric situations, models like Axelrod’s iterated prisoner’s dilemma might work well, but when there is a big asymmetry, narrative models probably kick in.
    Interesting direction to explore.
    Venkat

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