Prisoner’s Dilemmas XXI: (Part B): The Fiasco on the Vineyard

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Part A

As mentioned in Part A, the lack of foresight and economic ignorance of Massachusetts voters are a notable feature of the Fiasco on the Vineyard saga. However, Governor DeSantis is far from innocent in this debacle. He essentially used tax dollars to make an existing problem worse. All in the name of political gamesmanship. Yes, DeSantis is correct that Massachusetts does not fully bare the cost of liberal immigration policies. Many immigrants avoid Massachusetts because the state is financially inhospitable due to the high cost of living. It is tempting to give a political actors a dose of their own medicine when they have virtually no skin in the game.

DeSantis marooned these people in a jurisdiction where they do not have much hope for economic mobility, only stressing the island’s meager resources. Massachusetts voters defected first, by favoring immigration policies that will not impact their communities. The governor of Florida (DeSantis) chose to punch back and flew fifty migrants to an affluent tourist town in the Bay State. Not only was this tactless and passive-aggressive, but it was also lazy. It is easier to make a political spectacle out of the immigration debate than to advocate and implement reforms. The suboptimal result is; a group of impoverished immigrants stranded on a prohibitively expensive island. It is reasonable to argue that this situation is the second layer (and most salient) layer of this Prisoner’s Dilemma Dynamic.

The model for Validating the DeSantis vs. Martha Vineyard PD

Condition 1:  T>R>P>S

  • 1> .5>0>-1

This expression is typical in political Prisoner’s Dilemma centered on a single issue. 1= represents a single victory, .5= a compromise, 0= the lack of direct political blowback for refusing to compromise, and -1 = political defeat. If two political adversaries are competing over multiple policies that are being implemented independently of each other then the Temptation to defect would surpass the value of 1. 

  • Considering the current political animosity between Democrats and Republics; this situation numerically and quantitively fits this condition. 

Condition 2:   (T+S)/2<R

· (1+-1)/2 < .5

· (0)/2 <.5

· 0<.5

Prisoner’s Dilemmas XXI: (Part A): The Fiasco on the Vineyard

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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.

The Third Condition For Log-Rolling to Occur

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In a recent blog post, professor Bryan Caplan suggests that bipartisan log-rolling (vote trading) is frequently untenable on wedge issues. Since there is a high degree of polarization in the climate of American politics, winning on contentious political topics that have clear ideological divisions (e.g. abortion and gun control is a zero-sum exchange. Not towing the party line of these policies is tantamount to political suicide for elected officials. Dr. Caplan does provide two conditions under which log-rolling is likely to occur:

“….First, when the two sides, protestations notwithstanding, share similar principles and don’t disagree very much. Like the budget. Or any ultra-boring issue, like fisheries or snow removal. This is what most democratic log-rolling comes down to.

Second, to avert large, sudden deteriorations. The polity will forgive you for passing up endless opportunities to make the country richer or safer. But if life quickly gets much worse, even the most silver-tongued demagogues struggle to keep holding the reins of state…”

Professor Caplan is a very astute and innovative Public Choice scholar, but he ignores a potential third condition under which vote trading may transpire; intrapersonal vote exchange. This example of vote trading is a form of implicit log-rolling (p.101), where policies are entrenched in a specific political party’s platform. By voting for a candidate affiliated with a coalition, the voter must accept all of the planks in the campaign platform, as we cannot cherry-pick the policies an individual candidate or party advocates.

 Because of this, we must engage in some degree of policy preference ranking. Potentially, engendering an intrapersonal collective action problem, if a voter favors gun rights ( a conservative position) and open-borders immigration ( a liberal policy), odds are they effectively choose one over the other when voting for the president or another variety of political representatives ( a tradeoff). The policy or sets of policies the voter prefers more; will be the deciding factor. If Jim is a proponent of lax gun laws and lenient immigration laws; but votes for a conservative candidate, we can only surmise he values gun rights more than free immigration. In this scenario, Jim engaged in log-rolling with himself.

The most common form of intrapersonal vote trading is when people contour all of their policy preferences to the platform of a political party. The likelihood that every diehard Republic sincerely agrees with the party on every issue is exceedingly small, but most partisan political participants don’t even allow themselves to question their political beliefs. These individuals exchange any disagreements with their party of choice for the designated status as a loyal member of the political faction. An excellent example of this is former Reaganites supporting the presidency and 2020 candidacy of Donald Trump. Regan was the American king of Neoliberal trade policy; Trump echoes the paleoconservative concerns for globalization. We could provide a convoluted explanation for this discrepancy, but such gymnastics would be superfluous. It is much more probable that these individuals tailored their policy preferences to fit an evolving Republican party than they had a sincere paradigm shift. 

Prisoner’s Dilemmas: XI – DACA and Labor Shortages

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DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivalsis a controversial immigration initiative from the Obama administration. Implemented in 2012, it extended deferred action (“…administrative relief from deportation..”) to undocumented immigrants that came into the United States as children, albeit the following criteria:

“…To be eligible for DACA, applicants must meet several eligibility requirements such as: have entered the United States before their 16th birthday, be currently in school, a high school graduate or be honorably discharged from the military, be under 31 years of age, and not have been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or otherwise pose a threat to national security….”

However, this Obama-era policy has proven to be quite contentious, especially considering the nativist proclivities of the Trump administration. This sentiment is reflected in the Southern District of Texas ruling in  State of Texas et al v. United States of America et al ruling DACA to be illegal. There are many arguments for restricting immigration, but it is possible that limiting immigration could produce problematic consequences? Adverse outcomes beyond the lofty ideals of multiculturalism? Currently, in the United States, there is a labor shortage, being dubbed the Great Resignation. More people are declining to participate or return to back to the workforce. Labor force participation was reflected as 61.9 percent as of December 2021.; when compared to December 2019, 63.3 percent.

The discrepancy in workforce participation between 2019 and 2021 may seem minor, but to see the severity of the effect, one only needs to view the lack of staffing at the local grocery store. Combined with global supply chain shortages it becomes apparent that commodities and entry-level labor are in short supply. Does the question become why further decrease the pool of potential workers through cracking down on immigration? Then arises the erroneous myth that immigration, specifically illegal immigration harms American workers. Most Americans polled even admit that immigrants assume job roles that most native-born citizens are unwilling to perform. It should note that deporting DACA-eligible workers would also exacerbate current worker shortages in higher-paid jobs considering nearly a quarter of DACA have attained a college degree (p.2).

If anything, considering the current economic conditions, restricting immigration/ deporting undocumented workers could result in a Prisoner’s Dilemma. A mutual defection between undocumented immigrants that entered the United States as children (DACA Dreamers) and the vigilant “immigration hawks”. By the very fact, the dreams refuse to go back to their country of “origin” this could be seen as an implicit defection against the immigration hawks who seek to deport all illegal immigrations and be strict about who is permitted to assume residency in the United States. Naturally, the incentives structures between the two groups are irreconcilable, the odds of a mutually acceptable compromise are slim-to-none; the immigration debate is a winner-take-all game. Compromise can be achieved in politics but is rendered untenable because of political polarization. Immigration has become a hotly contested wedge issue where making concessions are no longer fashionable. The immigration hawks do not realize that they are shooting themselves in the foot. When labor shortages impact establishments ranging from the drive-thru to the emergency room, it affects everyone. Regardless of their position on immigration, making it asinine to refuse willing labor participation the right to work.