Thomas Schelling (April 14, 1921 – December 13, 2016) RIP

schellingthomas-cCelebrated economist Thomas Schelling died today at the age of 95. He was the recipient of the 2005 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for “having enhanced our understanding of conflict and cooperation through game-theory analysis”. I note his passing because he was instrumental in my recognizing that I belonged to his tribe — that I was at heart an economist. Mere accident led me to pick up his book Micromotives and Macrobehavior (1978) at the Sunnyvale Public Library sometime back in the early 1990s. He received his bachelors degree in economics in 1944 from UC Berkeley, my alma mater. 

I have referred to Schelling a few times here. One is in the Tangled Web series of posts. Do read when you are done with this. Here are a couple of quotes from his MM&MB book:

    • These situations, in which people’s behavior or people’s choices depend on the behavior or choices of other people, are the ones that usually don’t permit any simple summation or extrapolation of the aggregates. To make that connection we usually have to look at the system of interaction between individuals and their environment, that is, between individuals and other individuals or between individuals and the collectivity.
    • What this book is about is a kind of analysis that is characteristic of a large part of the social sciences, especially the more theoretical part. That kind of analysis explores the relation between the behavior of individuals who compromise some social aggregate, and the characteristics of the aggregate.

Before reading Schelling, I used to mistakenly believe that economists primarily studied money and finance. While reading him I realized that economics was a rigorous, unsentimental investigation of how real flesh-and-blood humans behave in everyday situations. It was a subject that fascinated me and moved me to study the discipline formally.

Thank you, Thomas Schelling.


Author: Atanu Dey


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