The Moorish Wanderer

Game Theory & Revolutions

Posted in Flash News, The Wanderer, Tiny bit of Politics by Zouhair ABH on February 5, 2011

True to my word to Afrinomad, I’ll try and  delineate the game theory applications on revolutions. I’ll go slower, not the least because it’s uncharted territory there to me. I mean, the best I’d ever do with game theory is with economics application -just like the mess I am supposed to sort out by this spring-. This does not mean I don’t understand what I should be posting about. Let’s just say that there are some areas in political sciences I would do well to read about on my spare time (oh? Do I still have one of these?)

Looking back at the undergraduate days, I read an interesting book, which turned out to be a big helper in understanding political sociology: ‘Théorie du Choix Révolutionnaire‘ (T.Tazdaït, R.Nessah La Découverte, 2008). It is handy, in the sense that both authors are at ease with game theory concepts. And one of the many things I noticed -and recorded- was the constant reminder that revolutions, in essence are not really a rational behaviour. Why should it be? The whole idea of mixing revolution theory and rationalism seems ludicrous: not that both concepts are irreconcilable, but because that a pure rationale, from an individual point of view, collective action is deemed to failure. Shaw proposed the following the illustrate the paradox: let the following linear equation be an agent’s utility function R = p.B – C + D

It's already there, mate.

where R is the utility pay-off, p is the probability assigned to the effect the individual can have on a successful outcome for the revolution, C the cost of participation and D the expected pay-off. Before I go any further, this is not a normative model, in the sense that it should not elicit conclusions about what’s a good or a bad revolution. At best, it’s an abstract speculation on rationale behind individual and collective behaviour. Now, if there are masses of people supporting the revolution, an individual contribution to success is next to nothing. Plus if the individual does not participate, they incur no cost and benefit nonetheless from the revolutionary outcome. But if the same result was to be applied to every single member of the community, the revolution is doomed before it even begins. So there is the nodal problem: Revolutions are the deed of the multitude. And yet, when individuals weight in the costs and benefits, they have every incentive to adopt a free-rider behaviour: wait by and look on as he events undo the incumbent regime, then reap the benefits when it succeeds. If not, being obedient brings benefits too.

This ultra-rational behaviour does not explain why revolutions occur. In fact, it just makes people think that revolutions are inherently irrational. But are they? Perhaps this individual methodology is no good to understand collective action: it is logical to assume that the collective effort is not a mere aggregation of individual wills, that, past a certain critical mass effect, it subsumes it and exceeds to a greater strength.

Let’s find us some practical game theory application on Egypt and Tunisia: assume the revolution is a public good – there’s an interesting configuration by Vickery-Clarke-Groves which seems to me suitable for collective actions. In a game theory setting, for a revolution to succeed, it needs to devise some modus operandi following which the result would be strategy-proof, i.e. at some stage, all individuals would contribute to the outcome according to their true needs, and as such their benefits would be larger in contributing to the revolution than just standing out of it, when they would indeed benefit from a change of regime. Let me re-formulate it: there’s a need for a modus operandi such that those really in need for a revolution would in fact contribute rather than just stand by. These very individuals, the least endowed in a given society that is, have every incentive to revolt because the expected loss is considered to be lower than the benefits.

So, a public good, or a revolution, seeks the modified optimization program:

it’s easier to understand than it looks actually – the revolution seeks increasing the well-being of the majority -thus the mode- (first line) but takes ‘taxes’ out of different individuals (second line), and these taxes can be perfectly random, like death, or an injury or just a burned car. k is the last outcome: success (1) or failure (0). Then, at individual level (third line), they have types that are more or less attached to a change in the political regime or indeed achieving any desired outcome the incumbent government does not provide. Insofar the poorest elements have the lowest tolerance for a certain array of imbalanced distribution of wealth, income, power and other social symbolism outlets, they can be expected to react and contribute -issues of coordination are not discussed here- because in Egypt or Tunisia their numbers were important, the contribution of middle classes was perhaps marginal at the second level, but it nonetheless gave a larger boost to the public good. The game has a social choice function f(.) fully strategy-proof as long as it meets the following requirements:

basically, a function that yields a utility such that it is better for an individual to act following their type rather than portray another one (called the incentive compatibility).

When the coordination issue is not discussed, the key for revolutions, from a game theory perspective, is to ask first off, how wide is the gap between expected gains the rioter, soon-to-be revolutionary, is betting on, and their present wealth, and second, how many of them are ready to join in, i.e. how many are in the same position.

When coordination does arise, it can either be the fact of institutional nature -which game theory has little to do with- like pre-existing trade-unions, or the use of social networks (virtual or not), and that is a matter of algorithmic nature, on which I claim no informed knowledge. In any case, coordination in game theory assumes the existence of a benevolent referee which Tunisia and Egypt proved to be non-existent or negligible.

The whole exercise is pointless, save perhaps the idea that revolutions are not inherently dysfunctional occurrences of otherwise rational institutions and behaviour. With a bit of game theory, it can be proven that it is fully rational, and that the only problems in completing the argument are not related to reason, and could nonetheless be expected with the help of otherwise more randomized experiences.

Who’s Next?

I did not get elected. That was expected, though I was disappointed I did not get enough votes for the MBAs. Never mind, perhaps next year, and a great thank you to those who supported me throughout. I will nonetheless continue in my folly, those who appreciate it can be assured of that.

Yesterday, late at night, after one too many Jack Daniel’s & Vodka shots (at a birthday party, mainly mingling about), I was staring at television, watching news from Egypt. I dare say it gets pretty hard to impress me, but the pictures of demonstrators on a tank (alive and joyfully chanting ‘Down With Mubarak !‘) took me aback. Drunkenness only just amplifies the sense of amazement that, if something is happening in Egypt, it might not be the same as the Tunisian uprising, it remains a historical day, and a memorable month.

Central Cairo. Demonstrations are genuinely popular and demand ousting Moubarak (Guardian Picture)

If dices keep rolling, the whole MENA region’s geopolitics might be profoundly altered: perhaps my analogy is wrong and misplaced, but it feels quite like the late 1980’s behind the iron curtain: the GDR, the most trustworthy ally to the Soviets, went down as the Berlin Wall was joyfully torn apart by enthusiastic demonstrators. In Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, oppressive Stalinist regimes faded away like houses of cards. If the analogy is far-fetched, the symbolism of iron curtain can be considered to be relevant: in MENA, there is indeed an iron curtain, between the oppressed denizens and their rights, whatever basic they are, between the oppressed and squeezed poor-working classes and the apparatchik, greedy, rapacious cronies. An iron curtain between eternal, sometimes senile rulers and youthful, healthy ruled. In every sense of the word, there is a huge asymmetry between the body politics and the body citizens. Truly, we live in interesting times, and this is not a curse.

Humour me: is there is country where a part of the population desperately rallies behind the ruler, re-affirms its love and devotion for Him, and reiterates the line “we are different”? Hint: It’s most westerner one in North Africa. Moroccan policy-makers are watching carefully, and delivering even more careful statements, trying to anticipate what was already managed but was yet to get worse.

I think why I did not get enough votes for the MBAs. Perhaps I was too critical of the ruler(s) of the land. Perhaps I should have watered down with some lauding comments, or perhaps by expressing understanding sympathy to a Regal will for reform. Cheap lines, as it were, that, even in real life, are of little help: the policy-maker works better when facing opposition, and the more the latter is involved in real debate, enjoying a say on matters of state, then the very epitome of democracy are there for citizens to enjoy. In time of crisis, hurriedly rallying behind His Majesty looks at best sheepish, if not entirely lick-spittle behaviour. What, are all Moroccans -especially on the web- eager to show their monarchical sympathies like a badge of honour? Is there is some greema for every spine-less, herd-minded fool enough to change their profile picture on social networks, start posting fulsome praises to the King, and worse, stifle those questioning their sanity. That, dear readers, is a fit of panic. And with it, the shadows of doubt, indecisiveness begin to close on Morocco’s future.

The next Lego Ad, Perhaps?

It is true Morocco is different. This is such a tautology, considering that all countries are different one from the other when considered globally. Egypt was different from Tunisia, and yet there is an ongoing successful, large-scale protest against the incumbent ruler. What is meant by ‘difference’ is that the reasons why Egyptians, Tunisians and Yemenis took to the street differ, although there can be found some pattern, which can be found in Morocco too. Now, we should address two questions: is Morocco’s profile risk bound to deliver some large scale protests, and what is the ongoing reaction among officials.

First, Morocco shares common features with Tunisia and Egypt, and up to a point, these indicators are even worse concerning Morocco. Their respective economies grew at comparatively high rates, but failed to benefit all but a few members of oligarchy. While the three countries signed free-trade agreements with each other and with other major economies, they commit to free markets and limited state intervention, and yet the economic structures is either monopolistic (private monopolies, that is) or oligopolistic; Furthermore, there are numerous records of opaque relationships between some state officials -some quite close to the rulers’ inner circle- and the largest economic players. In a word, all these countries -and others in the region- are, as far as economics is concerned, crony capitalism. With respect to economic structures, and regardless of regional variations, each countries has a concentrated distribution of wealth. In social and human rights terms however, the differences are more acute: Benali’s Tunisia was considered the ‘Mother Of All Oppressive North African Regimes‘, while Egypt and Morocco, mainly because of their large population -compared to Tunisia- did not crack down on Human Right activists and bloggers with the same viciousness as in Tunisia, but still, both regimes exercise a watchful -and sometimes vengeful- eye on dissidence. Morocco however, has a more liberal dealing with dissidence, though it remains highly repressive.

Second, Morocco witnesses quasi-everyday protests: the unemployed graduates in front of Parliament alley in Rabat, or in the hinterlands, the so-called “Maroc Inutile” the ‘useless Morocco’, where denizens have access to basic services, but only just: reliance on rain barometer, high unemployment, arrogant, corrupt and rapacious local administration are but a few items that sometimes lead these parts of the realm to social resentment, and ultimately, popular protests that are either  put down by use of police force, or defused with usually empty promises. Compared to Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Yemen and other countries, Moroccans are more willing to take to the streets, but only to protest for Palestine, and sometimes, just sometimes, against rising prices. When local demonstrations are staged, they do not usually target anyone in particular, and political claims are watered down by claims for more affordable cost of living. My theory is that by tolerating some minor, localized demonstrations, officials provide the people with an air-valve to defuse their frustrations and neutralize any possibility of a larger, more dangerous uprising. If that happens, there are thousands of unknowns to be determined: if the police is not enough, they might wheel-in the army. Are soldiers going to shoot live rounds to demonstrators? Who will give the ultimate order of ‘fire at will’? what part political powers are likely to play? Is the Regal institution going to be gainsaid too? All of this makes any prediction one way or the other most blurry, most difficult to estimate.
One thing for sure: these idiotic gesticulations about ‘love march’ and ‘we heart the King’ betray an increasing unease about the prospect that, after all, Moroccan people are not so fond of their Sovereign. It’ high time we faced the eventuality of such outcome.

What is to be made out of calls to stage a pro-monarchy demonstration on February 6th? Not much in fact. It could look like a makhzenian demonstration, but things could also turn sour with the police and security forces butting in. And before they know it, the brass would find themselves with a de facto revolt: riots, injured, possibly dead, worldwide TV cameras and bad publicity for a regime dying to distance themselves from the turmoil and marketing its institutions as an isle of democracy and freedom of speech.

The Unknown Lurks in the shadow of sudden twists in History.

So far, theses calls for ostentatious monarchism look at best laughable. It does not make sense, or it looks like a staged coup to reassure the policy-makers: “look Your Majesty, your Regal picture is all over Facebook and Twitter. Your subjects love you, sire”.

As a monarchy, we have a court. Favourites and courtesans prance about, trying to catch the Sovereign’s good graces. It could indeed be a re-enactment of a millennium-old ritual: when the Sultan visits a contumacious province, the local governor lines up the men and women, chanting and dancing for the pleasure of His Imperial Majesty the Sultan, providing such Thespian skills to provide for a façade of submission, good will and undying loyalty to the ruler of the day.

The trouble is, our governance modus operandi is so opaque, so esoteric that whatever event cannot, and will not be considered at its face value. Sane commentators and fair-minded citizens will ultimately see an anxious regime, trying to re-assure themselves that, no, the Moroccans are not Tunisians or Egyptians, and love their King genuinely. As far as things are, the angry mob would direct their frustration to other potentates: Wealthy families, essentially, with some figureheads as scapegoats (that the King might dismiss, when needs to be). But if old farts stick together, there will be a time, we’re no way near it, but still, were such fine nuances would be wiped out.

I hope the fine minds monitoring Morocco would take that into account, start defusing things by preparing real political reforms, and start addressing the economic weaknesses and shunning the fat cats they take to their bosom. Start pumping reforms, before the street takes you over !

(I can help the Royal Cabinet if they want me to. Please contact me for CV and Interview. MAD 80k entry salary, a car and an up-state house, opportunities to travel abroad)

Ah, ça ira, ça ira…

Posted in Tiny bit of Politics by Zouhair ABH on December 10, 2008

“… Les aristocrates à la lanterne, les aristocrates on les pendra !”

cette célèbre chanson révolutionnaire est symbolique : le peuple a suffisamment supporté le poids des privilèges, il se révolte et fatalement, liquide ceux qui l’exploitaient. 1789 et de 1917 ont ce point commun d’être un ras-le-bol populaire contre ce qui était vécu comme une situation profondément injuste : en Russie tsariste, 95% des terres étaient la propriété de moins de 5% de la population.

Quand Necker et Turgot voulaient établir un impôt universel et supporté par tous, la noblesse a usé de son influence auprès de Louis XVI pour donner congé aux inspirateurs desdites réformes. La suite, nous la connaissons tous, ce même Roi perd la tête –au sens propre bien entendu- et les Barons, Marquis, Princes, Comtes et autres titres aristocratiques furent soit exécutés, soit acculés à l’émigration. Après 1917, Les princes russes durent s’exiler en Europe, où, pendant les années 1920, il n’était pas rare de voir l’un d’eux conduire un taxi pour (sur)vivre.

Deux exemples, deux constats : le Peuple déteste les inégalités, et par-dessus tout, les privilèges. A. de Tocqueville, pourtant peu suspect de jacobinisme, a bien relevé cet attachement singulier de l’individu à la condition égalitaire. Aux privilèges, des hommes comme Saint-Simon –comte- opposaient l’égalitarisme : quand il s’opposait au droit d’héritage, quand il évoquait “l’égalité des chances de départ”. Et la Gauche dans tout cela ?
La Gauche est historiquement et viscéralement une idéologie antiprivilèges. Contrairement aux racontars des détracteurs de l’idéologie socialiste (puis plus tard communiste) la gauche n’a pas vocation à pratiquer le “nivellement par le bas” comme le considèrent certains esprits en chargeant la gauche d’Egalitarisme, étouffant les talents et les compétences.

Non, la Gauche est antiprivilèges. Ces derniers sont d’origine divine, les noms à particule tirent leur légitimité de celle du monarque, donc celle de Dieu? Les Jacobins, lointains ancêtres de la gauche française, proclament l’égalité des citoyens. Egalitarisme ? Certes non, cette égalité des droits est un prélude à l’égalité des moyens, d’autant plus que ces “ci-devants” n’ont, pour reprendre le bon mot du peuple britannique au XVIIème siècle : “du temps où Adam bêchait et Eve filait, qui était le noble ? ” Que dire à ces nantis, quand leur privilège découle de leur naissance, d’un “travail caché qui ne dit pas son nom” ? destruction des compétences et des talents ? allons bon ! En reprenant les terres du seigneur, en garantissant les assignats sur sa fortune, on l’exproprie d’une richesse qu’il n’a pas produit, et dont il jouit egoïstement, alors que ses métayers  souffrent de la disette.

L’Egalité des droits et de la condition de citoyen est une correction volontariste, sanglante même, d’une situation injuste en redistribuant intégralement les “cartes du jeu”. Nous serions tentés aujourd’hui de proclamer avec une certaine satisfaction : les privilèges ont disparu. Désormais, c’est le règne de la “Méritocratie”, le règne par le travail et la valorisation des compétences. Nous pouvons d’ailleurs le remarquer : la structure des revenus et des niveaux de vie de la société française, par exemple, est une structure à forte concentration autour du revenu médian, et de faibles dispersions autour. Peu de riches, peu de pauvres et beaucoup à la condition “moyenne”.

Ce que Tocqueville prêtait à la société américaine comme qualité suprême de mobilité sociale allait-il s’appliquer à la société française ? Il n’y a certes plus de nobles, mais désormais des bourgeois. Car quand nous parlons des privilèges, nous évoquons bien entendu deux versants de cette anomalie sociale : d’une part les restrictions d’un bien rare au profit d’une petite catégorie de nantis, d’autre part les mécanismes d’exclusion qui perpétuent le caractère restreint du privilège. D’après les chantres de la droite, les privilèges de l’Ancien Régime ont disparu, et les signes de réussite sociale et économique ne doivent plus être stigmatisés, mais plutôt montrés et revendiqués : Bolloré, Pinault, Bouygues,… peuvent bien étaler leurs richesses, mais une question se pose : ces richesses sont elles dues à leurs talents seuls ? Bien sûr que non, puisqu’ils ont hérité d’une structure déjà florissante, ils ont hérité d’un privilège. Tout se passe donc comme si, pour apaiser une population aux caractéristiques homogènes –et qui souffre, rappellons-le, d’une baisse de son pouvoir d’achat-, on lui fait miroiter la réussite –financière, économique et sociale- d’une petite frange : les entrepreneurs (des héritiers surtout) des artistes, des sportifs… ce que Althusser dénonçait dans son ouvrage “Idéologie et Appareil Idéologique de l’Etat”, sauf que ce n’est plus l’Etat qui domine et impose sa domination –privatisations obligent- c’est désormais les classes dominantes, les classes privilégiées. Alors que durant des années, les privilégiés adoptaient cette devise de la famille Peugeot “vivons heureux, vivons cachés”, vigilance populaire et communiste oblige (oh, il ne faisait pas bon d’être riche après 1945…) les changements géopolitiques de la fin du XXème siècle ont assuré les nouveaux privilégiés d’une certaine impunité vis-à-vis des non-privilégiés, auxquels on refuse l’accès aux ressources rares.

Je ne saurai que conseiller aux incrédules de lire cet ouvrage de P. Bourdieu, “Noblesse d’Etat : Grandes Ecoles et Esprit de Corps” pour convaincre de la survivance d’un système de distinction et d’attribution de privilèges de l’Ancien Régime. A cette situation, la position de la Gauche est plurielle : certains s’en accommodent en tentant de “démocratiser” l’accès à ces privilèges, ou tout au moins, à en donner l’illusion ; Certains revendiquent une égalisation brutale et volontariste des conditions des uns et des autres. Entre ces deux extrêmes, nous nous situerons au centre donc – au grand plaisir de nos amis d’Avant-Centre- : qu’un individu recueille le fruit de son labeur et qu’il en jouisse est tout à fait normal. Après tout, on a souvent tendance à escamoter la seconde phrase de Proudhon : “La propriété, c’est la liberté”. Mais que ce surplus créé le soit sur le dos d’autres, ou aux dépends d’autres individus, cela relève de l’inacceptable.

Ce que la Gauche –à mon humble avis- critique finalement, ce n’est pas tant la réussite ou le petit “extra” dont dispose un individu par rapport à un autre ; non, ce que la gauche critique, c’est l’usage qui en est fait : transformer un bien rare en une sorte de rente, un privilège, c’est instituer les inégalités et les consacrer. Dépasser cet état de choses peut résider dans la “redistribution perpétuelle” : en clair, il s’agit d’égaliser les conditions des individus dans une société donnée, en redistribuant indéfiniment les surplus générés. Pure justice sociale visant à écarter toute situation de rente et d’exploitation, situation qui conduit à l’émergence d’un privilège qui devient peu à peu indigne. Que nos contradicteurs soient rassurés, ni le talent, ni les compétences ne seront découragés par ce genre de mesures, car la philosophie qui la sous-tend est inspirée par Tocqueville : une masse d’individus aux conditions à peu près égales, qui circulent constamment entre la sphère supérieure, leur sphère et la sphère inférieure. Pas de situation de rente, pas de privilège, mais une fluidité et une mobilité sociales qui garantissent l’harmonie dans la société.

À nos “amis” de Droite : puisque vous prônez la flexibilité du travail, et que vous concevez la flexibilité du capital dans sa forme spéculative… il faudra aussi s’attendre à une flexibilité dans la détention du capital : eh oui, il n’y a pas que le petit salarié qui doit trinquer à cause de la mondialisation !