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The Martha’s Vineyard Immigrant debacle encapsulates the hideous nature of contemporary politics. It is a saga that depicts partisanship, hypocrisy, and lack of concern for effective policy. Both conservatives and the quixotic-minded and progressive residents of Martha’s Vineyard are responsible for this situation.

The controversy began when Republican Governor Ron DeSantis (using tax dollarsflew 50 migrants to the left-leaning tourist island of Martha’s Vineyard. The coordinator of the island’s homeless shelter has publicly expressed that their facility does not have the resources to provide services for the new arrivals. Even stating that the influx of migrants will exacerbate the current housing crisis. Economist Tyler Cowen addresses the scarcity of affordable housing on the island in his latest OP-ED piece:

“…Real estate is very expensive. And the island is strictly zoned, making it hard to build a lot of dense, low-cost housing…

Wages there are below the Massachusetts average, and living expenses are prohibitively expensive. Those realities stem from decisions about land use made by the island’s population. (I am OK with such community-supported zoning restrictions when they apply to very limited local areas, such as Martha’s Vineyard, and there are many options to look elsewhere. The problem arises when they start infesting a larger part of the U.S., as they have.)..”

Stringent zoning ordinances and below-average wages are a recipe for a housing crisis. In 2012, the average home was valued at “..$535,000 but average Islander could afford only $310,000..”.The cost of housing is prohibitive even for U.S. citizens residing on the island, never mind impoverished immigrants looking for better opportunities.

It is difficult to refute that this situation fits within the definition of a Prisoner’s Dilemma because two defecting coalitions made the scenario worse by not compromising. If anything, this occurrence might be a multifaceted Prisoner’s Dilemma; DeSantis owning the Libs isn’t the only game contributing to Martha’s Vineyard fiasco. The progressive islanders have conflicting desires politically, they effectively have had an intra-temporal Prisoner’s Dilemma with themselves. This is where Tyler Cowen’s observation, but the community’s hypocrisy regarding income inequality, comes into play. Because the island’s residents vocally support progressive policies in the name of economic justice. But concurrently, favor zoning ordinances that restrict the supply of homes and artificially inflate the cost of housing.

The model for Validating the Intra-institutional Prisoner’s Dilemma

Applying the model used by Nordstrom to validate Prisoner’s Dilemmas:

Condition 1:

The temptation to Defect (2= Signifies implementing both favorable zoning and left-wing economic policies)> Reward for Cooperation (1= The island recognizes the opportunity cost and amends its zoning laws; only one of the preferred policies is implemented)> Punishment For Defection (0= The majority of residents do not see that both policies cancel each other out)> Sucker’s Payoff (-1= The costs of creating political division by not favoring both varieties of policies).

T(2)> R(1)> P(0)> S(-1).

Condition 2:


(2+-1)/2 <1 ; (1)/2<1; .5 < 1

Even though the Fiasco on The Vineyard does numerically match the two conditions for a prisoner’s dilemma, this application of the PD incentives dynamic was creative. Game Theory purists might claim that it is erroneous to apply this lens so abstractly. However, the attributes of this intra-coalitional game do look like a cooperative game superficially. But the fact that local government and the constituents are attempting to balance conflicting interests. This situation may even validate Peter Clark’s Paradox of Implicit Logrolling (2021); however, there may be other factors at play. Per the public choice literature on rational ignorance, voters still select policies and elected officials even though they face severe information asymmetries. 

The DeSantis versus Martha’s Vineyard game will be reviewed in part B.


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