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Friday, June 03, 2016

Review: The Game Theorist's Guide to Parenting

Parenting books are a dime a dozen, most of them written badly and verbosely. Compared to the usual dreck, The Game Theorist's Guide To Parenting is a breath of fresh air. It's short, to the point, and of course, uses math. The math seems all correct as far as I can tell.

The disappointing thing for me is that I already knew most of what this book covered, including the various auction systems. While they're interesting, the use cases for the various auction technologies available for parenting are really limited, and the examples they provide are really contrived.

Where the book pays for itself are the chapters on strategic voting and how voting systems can be gamed. My own kids aren't old enough to play those games yet, but I'm sure that'll happen sooner or later.

The book's big problem is that most of the examples are either contrived or would yield to simpler solutions. There's an example of two kids fighting over who gets to play a new video game system first. The answer seems pretty obvious: make them bid with time (i.e., whoever plays first would play for less time), but the book ignores that and uses this example to go into Solomon's adjudication of the two mothers claiming the same baby.

Similarly, later on there's an example about a boy who persuades his parents to get a cat, but of course ends up leaving the cat care and training to his parents within a short period of time. The solution should be obvious: getting a cat is an ongoing contract, so extracting a promise up front is useless. You have to design systems where by cat care is incentivized through ongoing penalties. The authors ignore that and get into the Nash equilibrium without ever coming up with a good solution.

Having said that, the book is so short that it's still worth a read and who knows, maybe the ideas presented will eventually be useful. Mildly recommended.

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