The economics major used tenets of game theory to investigate an individual’s decision to own a gun.

Economics major Josh Nadel knew that he wanted to take a more theoretical approach to his senior thesis, in lieu of a more traditional, data-driven one. Also, as a political science minor, he was interested in researching public policy. So his thesis, “Equilibria in Firearm Ownership: Modeling a Partially Coordinated Market,” used tenets of game theory to investigate a person’s decision to own a gun. He deduced that the same theories that apply to what is known as a “coordinated game,” which is a type of game in which one player’s decision is impacted by another player’s, could also apply to goods.

“I had been interested in examining gun ownership from a policy standpoint,” he says, “and they really fit the profile of a coordinated good, in that an individual’s decision to arm depends, in part, on how safe their community is.”

Nadel, who is currently working on turning his thesis into a publishable paper, is now looking towards a career in public policy. “I’ve found the most rewarding part of this research to be the potential impacts that the theoretical side can have on real-world problems,” he says, “and now I’d like to take a whack at fixing them.”


How did your thesis advisor help you develop your topic, conduct your research, or interpret your results?

My thesis adviser was Assistant Professor Giri Parameswaran. I decided to take on a theoretical project largely because of the “Political Economy” [junior seminar] I took with him and the work I did for him over the past summer. He really helped me formalize the math involved with the project and overcome some of the barriers I faced. Most importantly, I think, he kept encouraging me to look for additional interesting conclusions beyond the initial scope of the project which led to a better final product. He’s also encouraged me to continue this work beyond the scope of the senior thesis.

What did you learn from working on your thesis?

I learned a lot about the importance of cross-disciplinary work. I really enjoyed bridging the gap between the abstract world of theoretical economics and game theory and public policy. I think this is a really unique and noble aspect of economics.

What are the implications for your research?

In my research, the additional value of coordination, that is making the same decision as others, leads to theoretical markets, which could result in distinct equilibria. For example, two identical communities could experience different firearm ownership rates.  Certain policy decisions, such as taxing firearms or increasing necessary regulations, have long been known to effect firearm ownership. In a market that may experience multiple equilibria rates, however, a policy shift can bump the culture from one ownership rate to the other, a drastically different change for a relatively small policy shift.  This is just a glimpse into what research of coordinated goods could accomplish. Social pressures play so heavily into decisions, especially whether to purchase goods, so research into coordinated goods could be a really terrific place for future research.


Photo: (cc) Lisa Roe/Flickr

“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.