Jane Austen, Game Theorist
Game theory—the study of how people make choices while interacting with others—is one of the most popular technical approaches in social science today. But I argue that Jane Austen explored game theory’s core ideas in her six novels roughly two hundred years ago. I find that game theory has early and subversive historical roots in Austen’s novels and in “folk game theory” traditions, including African American folktales. I consider how Austen analyzed “cluelessness”—the conspicuous absence of strategic thinking—and how her observations apply to U.S. military blunders in Iraq and Vietnam.
Michael Chwe is professor of political science at UCLA. Hereceived his doctorate in economics at Northwestern University and his bachelor’s at Caltech. He has previously been on the faculty of the University of Chicago (economics) and New York University (political science). His research centers on game theory and its applications to social movements, voting and information aggregation, social networks, monetary policy, violence, and literature. He has served as co-editor of the American Political Science Review and on the editorial boards of the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization and the American Journal of Sociology.