Exam Support: Use our Grade Booster 2023 online courses for your upcoming exams.

Study Notes

# Applying the Prisoner's Dilemma in Economics Exams

Level:
AS, A-Level, IB
Board:
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB, Eduqas, WJEC

Last updated 4 Mar 2023

The Prisoner's Dilemma can be used in economic analysis to understand and model situations where there is a conflict between individual self-interest and the collective interest. Here are a few ways in which ideas drawn from the Prisoner's Dilemma can be applied to economic analysis especially in your economics exams!

The Prisoner's Dilemma is a classic game theory scenario that demonstrates how cooperation can be difficult to achieve even when it is in everyone's best interest. Here is a numerical example of the Prisoner's Dilemma:

Two criminals, Alice and Bob, are arrested for a minor crime and are being held in separate cells. The prosecutor believes that they have committed a more serious crime but lacks the evidence to convict them. The prosecutor offers each criminal a plea bargain: if one of them confesses and implicates the other, that person will receive a reduced sentence, while the other person will receive a more severe sentence. If both confess, they will both receive a moderate sentence. If neither confesses, they will both be released due to lack of evidence.

Here is a table that shows the potential outcomes:

In this example, the numbers represent the number of years of imprisonment each person would receive. The best outcome for both Alice and Bob would be for both to stay silent, which would result in both of them going free.

However, if one person confesses while the other stays silent, the confessor will receive a reduced sentence (1 or 5 years, depending on the scenario), while the other person will receive a more severe sentence (10 years).

This creates a situation where each person has an incentive to confess, even though the outcome would be worse for both of them if they both confess.

Using the Prisoner's Dilemma in Economic Analysis

The Prisoner's Dilemma can be used in economic analysis to understand and model situations where there is a conflict between individual self-interest and the collective (or social) interest.

Here are a few ways in which ideas drawn from the Prisoner's Dilemma can be applied to economic analysis:

1. Oligopoly competition: The Prisoner's Dilemma can be used to model oligopoly competition, where a small number of firms dominate in a market. In this context, each firm has an incentive to maximize its profits, but if all firms do so, it can lead to a suboptimal outcome for the industry as a whole. The Prisoner's Dilemma provides a framework for understanding how firms can coordinate their actions perhaps through tacit collusion to achieve a better outcome.
2. Public goods provision: The provision of public goods, such as clean air or national defense, is often subject to the free-rider problem, where individuals have an incentive to enjoy the benefits of the public good without contributing to its provision. The Prisoner's Dilemma provides a framework for understanding how individuals can be incentivized to contribute to the provision of public goods.
3. Environmental policy: The Prisoner's Dilemma can be used to model situations where individuals or firms are polluting a common resource, such as air or water. Each individual or firm has an incentive to pollute in order to maximize its own profits, but if all individuals or firms do so, it can lead to a suboptimal outcome for everyone. The Prisoner's Dilemma provides a framework for understanding how environmental policy can be designed to incentivize individuals or firms to reduce pollution.

Tacit collusion

In economics, tacit collusion refers to a situation where firms in an industry coordinate their behavior and set prices at a level that maximizes their joint profits, without any explicit communication or agreement between them.

Unlike explicit collusion, where firms engage in illegal behavior such as price fixing or market allocation, tacit collusion is not illegal and is often difficult to prove. In a tacitly collusive industry, firms may engage in a variety of behaviors that allow them to coordinate their actions without communicating directly with one another. For example, they may adopt similar pricing strategies, match each other's price changes, or limit their production to avoid price wars.

Tacit collusion is often seen in industries with a small number of large firms, where there are high barriers to entry and the market is not very competitive. In such industries, firms may have an incentive to coordinate their behavior in order to avoid the uncertainty and risk associated with aggressive competition.

The effects of tacit collusion on consumers can be significant, as it can lead to higher prices and reduced choice in the market. Regulators and antitrust authorities may monitor industries for signs of tacit collusion and take action to prevent or punish collusive behavior if it is found to be harming consumers.

How can game theory be applied to trade wars?

Game theory can be applied to trade wars in several ways to help understand and model the strategic interactions between countries. Here are a few examples:

1. Tariff retaliation: Game theory can be used to analyze the strategic interactions between countries when one country imposes import tariffs on another, and the other country responds with its own tariffs. This can lead to a situation of escalating tariffs, where both countries suffer economic losses. Game theory can be used to analyze the optimal response of each country, and to identify potential strategies to avoid a trade war.
2. Trade agreements: Game theory can be used to analyze the incentives of countries to participate in trade agreements. For example, a country may have an incentive to impose tariffs to protect its domestic industries, but if other countries also impose tariffs, this can lead to a suboptimal outcome for everyone. Game theory can be used to identify potential solutions, such as reducing tariffs in exchange for other concessions.
3. Market access: Game theory can be used to analyze the strategic interactions between countries when it comes to market access. For example, a country may be reluctant to grant market access to another country, fearing that its own industries will be harmed. Game theory can be used to identify potential solutions, such as allowing limited market access in exchange for other concessions.

Overall, game theory can be a useful tool for analyzing the strategic interactions between countries in a trade war, and for identifying potential solutions to resolve the conflict. By modeling the behavior of each country and analyzing the potential outcomes of different strategies, game theory can help to inform policy decisions and promote mutually beneficial outcomes.

2nd October 2012

26th April 2012

19th May 2011

28th August 2015

### Law and Morality in Economic Life

26th November 2009

### Game Theory - How can a goalkeeper save a penalty?

26th December 2014

Study Notes

### Oligopoly - Collusion

Study Notes

© 2002-2023 Tutor2u Limited. Company Reg no: 04489574. VAT reg no 816865400.