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Letter: What is a zero sum game?
02012018 LETTER
If you peruse the news regularly, you have probably encountered the term “zero sum game.” This term is used by politicians as not applicable to their policies, solutions or talking points.

The term actually comes from the game theory literature of the 1950s that involved the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Two individuals who are charged with a crime are interviewed separately and have a choice of admitting guilt or innocence. If both admit guilt or innocence, that is considered a non zero sum outcome. If one admits guilt or innocence in contrast to the other, that is considered a zero sum game. To put it in simple terms: A zero sum outcome is akin to win-lose, succeed-fail, love-hate, etc.

Unfortunately, we live in a culture geared to zero sum games, regardless of what politicians say. That is why we can’t solve very many problems. Compromise, or give a little, is what eventually yields solutions. Who is worse, the extreme right or the extreme left? Both. Somewhere in the middle, or moderation, is the valid way to act to solve society’s problems.

Only when we actually start using a non zero sum game format can we make any headway in dealing with today’s issues.  Extremism will never be a solution to anything.

Peter McDonald, Ph.D.


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