In 2019, the world was, well, not really surprised when rising music star, Tekashi 69 was arrested in Newyork. Government prosecutors brought Armed robbery and attempted murder charges against Tekashi and members of his Trey Nine gang. He faced up to 47years behind bars (pun intended).
However, the police didn’t have all they needed to make a solid case against them all, so they made Tekashi a deal. He could expose his fellow gang members and increase his likelihood of freedom, or he could keep quiet and face the full 47years in prison. You can guess what he did. Tekashi ratted out all his crew members, giving prosecutors detailed information into the inner workings of the gang.
Game Theory and The Prisoner’s Dilemma
Data Analytics at LBS has exposed us to Decision analysis, and talk of game theory has come up. We can explain Tekashi’s position with a common model from game theory involving non-cooperative games, known as the prisoner’s dilemma.
It describes two criminals who have been caught by the police. The cops don’t have enough evidence to put them away for their main crimes, but can send them away for 1 year each for the little stuff like resisting arrest.
But the police want to put at least 1 or both of them away for good, so they seperate them into different rooms and offer them a deal. They tell each criminal (labelled A and B) “snitch on your friend and and you can walk away free! Or remain silent and serve your 1 year sentence” (see the diagram above). However, if your friend snitches on you, he gets to walk free and you will get up to 20 years in prison.
What do you think prisoner A should do? Remember, these prisoners are seperated and offered the deals individually. Each person doesn’t know what the other will decide, and they dont particularly have any loyalty towards each other.
Take a moment to think about it.
According to mathematicians, the solution to this dilemma is something called the ‘dominant strategy’. Dominant strategy is that strategy that gives you the best possible outcome regardless of what the other party decides to do.
If you do the noble thing and keep quiet, you may both get the best possible outcome for both of you: only 1 year each. However, you cannot trust your partner to resist the temptation of walking free. This is a very risky and unstable state for you, and according to game theorists, a foolish one.
Only by choosing to confess do you get the best possible outcome regardless of the other party’s decision. If the other criminal also confesses, you get 5 years in prison. But if he keeps quiet, you get to walk out of there a free man.
Applications of Dominant strategy
While it seems counter-intuitive to most people, we have applied the ideas behind dominant strategy to war, politics, and business. In competitive markets, you have to create strategy but have no idea what your competitors will do. Their actions have a profound effect on the effectiveness of your own strategies, hence the need for a ‘Dominant strategy’. This will assure you of the best outcome regardless of the activities of any other player.
Tekashi obviously chose the dominant strategy and today he is walking about a free man. However game theory has its limitations. We can influence the game and change it into a non-competitive one at the informal level with threats and sayings like “snitches get stiches”. In more formal settings, large companies can form cartels and agree on the terms of their oligopoly. This forces the games to become more co-operative and maybe, just maybe, Tekashi and his entire crew would stil be together today.
2 Replies to “Tekashi 69 and The Prisoner’s Dilemma”
Great stuff man. Your title is 10/10 🤣🤣🤣