Using Markov chains to evaluate winning strategies — and address common misconceptions — in Monopoly

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[Edit: Here is a comprehensive and superbly-executed visualisation of the results in this article, created in Tableau by Garrhett Petrea.]

Searching ‘monopoly strategies’ yields endless discussion of how to maximize one’s chances of winning. Since Monopoly is driven so vigorously by luck, the few player-influenceable aspects of the game have been studied to death. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the same conclusions keep popping up: the orange properties are the best, never buy utilities, buy 3 houses, etc.

As an avid Monopoly player, I was naturally curious about how these results were reached and if I could replicate them myself. Though I do…


Equality and fairness, as explored through science fiction.

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THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.

Harrison Bergeron is legendary writer Kurt Vonnegut’s attempt to prove a point. What exactly he was trying to say is shrouded in ambiguity.

The overblown dystopian setting…


And why ‘fairness’ has little to do with it.

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This paper was a finalist in the undergraduate category of the Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics. I owe a huge thanks to the judges and organisers of the competition, without whom this would never have been written. It can also be read in the Practical Ethics in the News blog.

Most notably in the United States, some prestigious universities consider whether or not a student is closely related to one or more alumni when evaluating her application. In an increasingly competitive university admissions landscape, having legacy status increases an applicant’s probability of being admitted to such a great extent…


Three times entire disciplines were upended in a few pages

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The Gettier Objection

What is knowledge? It took Edmund Gettier three pages to overturn the traditional, centuries-old answer to this question. His 1963 paper provided two counterexamples to the otherwise attractive analysis of knowledge as Justified True Belief (JTB), introducing what are now commonly known as Gettier cases.

The JTB analysis of knowledge claims that, in order for person S to know that p, a) S must believe that p is true, b) S must be justified in believing that p is true, and c) p must in fact be true. In many ways, this definition meets our intuitions about what it means…


Just look at how communities handled Eid and Diwali

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When Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the UK’s return to national lockdown, he reassured the public that such a measure was necessary in order to ensure “as normal a Christmas as possible.”

It’s now looking like the lockdown might have to be extended, potentially infringing on the Prime Minister’s promise of normality. Meanwhile, severe restrictions on gatherings and travel seem likely in parts of Europe and America. In other words, Christmas will be very different this year for those who celebrate it. In-person gatherings, long distance travel, and large events over Christmas have already been ruled out by many governments.


Why it’s okay not to know or care about politics

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i.

Political participation, when done correctly, can be an invaluable thing. However, there is a big gulf between beneficial and morally obligatory. In this article, I’m going to argue that no one has a moral obligation to be actively involved in politics. This means that I think it’s okay not to sign petitions, protest, or engage in social media activism. In short, it’s perfectly acceptable to tune out of politics, even if you’re privileged by injustice in some way.

Most people agree with me. I can say this with full confidence because the majority of people are terribly informed and…


Sci-fi flash fiction

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It was a new village, nestled between a stream and a valley. Nature’s rough fist replaced the original inhabitants’ dreams of expansion with a mere hope of survival. Past the valley was a grand tree the size of ten men, slowly growing under the same elements which plagued the nearby community.

It was this little corner of the world that the Time Traveller eventually ventured to. Not much is known about her. The following is what two generations of academics have been able to piece together from oral histories and the archaeological record.

She was from the distant future, when…


Ethical issues with private tutoring and how to overcome them

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i.

College admissions is pretty much a zero-sum game. At top universities, there is a massive number of qualified applicants competing for a comparatively tiny number of places. Students and their families invest significant time and money in the hopes of making a positive impression on admissions committees, which in turn are forced to make decisions based on increasingly-arbitrary factors.

When competition is intense, all values other than the will to win start to erode. “Any time spent on hobbies isn’t spent bolstering your Oxbridge application. Choose your subjects to maximize the probability of getting into your target school. …


How to increase turnout without violating individual freedoms

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In Australia, voting in municipal, state and federal elections has been mandatory since 1924. Over 90% of eligible voters consistently get to the ballot box, and serious opposition to compulsory voting is practically nonexistent.

The punishment for refusing to vote without a valid excuse? A mere $20 fine.

Moreover, it technically isn’t mandatory to actually select a candidate. All one needs to do is get their name marked off on the register and drop a ballot into the box. Whether anything is written on that ballot is irrelevant.

Still, genuine expressions of political preference are commonplace. The Australian Electoral Commission…


A sci-fi short story

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There has never been a protracted war from which a country has benefitted.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

For the first time in 342 days, Charlie Broughman was late. The junior member sprinted into the office, slid into his ergochair and waved on the monitor.

It had been only two weeks since the last bombing. Broughman would have to keep on his toes. This was the job, after all: keep your mind and body in peak shape and wait for the call to operate.

“Ava! You thinking about retiring anytime soon? Make some space for us young people?” …

Tanae Rao

philosophy, politics, and economics @ oxford

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