Game Theory and Cold War Rationality: A Review Essay

32 Pages Posted: 25 Feb 2016 Last revised: 12 Mar 2016

See all articles by E. Roy Weintraub

E. Roy Weintraub

Duke University - Department of Economics

Date Written: February 23, 2016


This essay reviews new histories of the role of game theory and rational decision-making in shaping the social sciences, economics among them, in the post war period. The recent books "The World the Game Theorists Made" by Paul Erickson and "How Reason Almost Lost Its Mind" by Paul Erickson, Judy Klein, Lorraine Daston, Rebecca Lemov, Thomas Sturm, and Michael Gordin raise a number of complex historical questions about the interconnections among game theory, utility theory, decision-theory, optimization theory, information theory and theories of rational choice. Moreover the contingencies of time, place, and person call into question the usefulness of economists' linear narratives about the autonomous and progressive development of modern economics. The essay finally reflects on the challenges that these issues present for historians of recent economics.

Keywords: game theory, rational choice, programming, rationality, RAND, John von Neumann, Cold War, operations research

JEL Classification: A11, A12, B2, C02, C6, C7, D01, D74

Suggested Citation

Weintraub, E. Roy, Game Theory and Cold War Rationality: A Review Essay (February 23, 2016). Economic Research Initiatives at Duke (ERID) Working Paper No. 208, Available at SSRN: or

E. Roy Weintraub (Contact Author)

Duke University - Department of Economics ( email )

Durham, NC 27708-0097
United States
919-660-1838 (Phone)
919-684-8974 (Fax)


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