Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Appropriating Your Adversary's Weapon

The Takeaway aired a story about Joe Hill to commemerate Labor Day, but one episode makes for some interesting game theory. Joe Hill was a labor leader and songwriter for IWW (the Wobblies) in the early 20th century.

  1. He, and other labor leaders, would often set up a soapbox to agitate for better labor practices. 
  2. Employment agencies would counter by trying to disperse the crowd, often resulting in violence. A clever, non-violent reaction was to hire the Salvation Army band to drown out these agitators. It is difficult compete with a brass band.
  3. Joe Hill, and others, cleverly wrote new lyrics to the melodies the Salvation Army would play. The crowd would quickly learn the lyrics from the leaders. This way, instead of drowning out the protesters' message, they were accompanying the impromptu 'choir.'
Change the game to get your preferred outcome.

1 comment:

  1. I found this post to be an interesting example of a sequential-move game. With the media portraying violence on almost a daily basis it is a nice change to read about how two competitors resorted to non-violent actions to get their messages and points across. In sequential-move games “players look ahead and reason back” (Froeb et al, 2016, p.186). To win this game you have to think fast and essentially be one step ahead of your competition.

    Being a labor leader, Joe Hill had to make sure his threat (demanding better labor practices) was credible. To do that he had to change the game, which he did, by using his knowledge and experience as a songwriter to defeat the employment agencies. In the Managerial Economics textbook it notes that in sequential-move games, “you can make yourself better off by eliminating one of your options” (Froeb et. al., 2016, p.187). In this case, the employment agencies did this for Joe by not reacting to his actions with violence.

    Knowing Joe Hill’s songwriting ability, should the employment agencies used the Salvation Army’s band? Probably not; however, they were trying to resort to non-violent actions. This may have been something they overlooked, but Joe’s response to their action was perfect. I think the equilibrium path has been uncovered.