Thomas Schelling

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Thomas Schelling
Thomas Schelling.jpg
Schelling in 2007
Thomas Crombie Schelling

(1921-04-14)April 14, 1921
DiedDecember 13, 2016(2016-12-13) (aged 95)
Institution Yale University
Harvard University
University of Maryland
New England Complex Systems Institute
Field Game theory
Alma mater University of California, Berkeley
Harvard University
Arthur Smithies
Wassily Leontief
James Duesenberry
A. Michael Spence [1]
Eli Noam [2]
Influences Carl von Clausewitz, Niccolò Machiavelli
Contributions Focal point
Awards The Frank E. Seidman Distinguished Award in Political Economy (1977) Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences (2005)
Information at IDEAS / RePEc

Thomas Crombie Schelling (April 14, 1921 – December 13, 2016) was an American economist and professor of foreign policy, national security, nuclear strategy, and arms control at the School of Public Policy at University of Maryland, College Park. He was also co-faculty at the New England Complex Systems Institute. He was awarded the 2005 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences (shared with Robert Aumann) for "having enhanced our understanding of conflict and cooperation through game-theory analysis." [3]

Economist professional in the social science discipline of economics

An economist is a practitioner in the social science discipline of economics.

A country's foreign policy, also called foreign relations or foreign affairs policy, consists of self-interest strategies chosen by the state to safeguard its national interests and to achieve goals within its international relations milieu. The approaches are strategically employed to interact with other countries. The study of such strategies is called foreign policy analysis. In recent times, due to the deepening level of globalization and transnational activities, the states will also have to interact with non-state actors. The aforementioned interaction is evaluated and monitored in attempts to maximize the benefits of multilateral international cooperation. Since the national interests are paramount, foreign policies are designed by the government through high-level decision-making processes. National interests accomplishment can occur as a result of peaceful cooperation with other nations, or through exploitation. Usually, creating foreign policy is the job of the head of government and the foreign minister. In some countries, the legislature also has considerable effects. Foreign policies of countries have varying rates of change and scopes of intent, which can be affected by factors that change the perceived national interests or even affect the stability of the country itself. The foreign policy of a country can have a profound and lasting impact on many other countries and on the course of international relations as a whole, such as the Monroe Doctrine conflicting with the mercantilism policies of 19th-century European countries and the goals of independence of newly formed Central American and South American countries.

National security defense and maintenance of a state through use of all powers at the states disposal

National security is the security of a nation state, including its citizens, economy, and institutions, which is regarded as a duty of government.



Early years

Schelling was born on April 14, 1921 in Oakland, California. [3] Schelling graduated from San Diego High. He received his bachelor's degree in economics from the University of California, Berkeley in 1944. He received his PhD in economics from Harvard University in 1951.

Oakland, California City in California, United States

Oakland is the largest city and the county seat of Alameda County, California, United States. A major West Coast port city, Oakland is the largest city in the East Bay region of the San Francisco Bay Area, the third largest city overall in the San Francisco Bay Area, the eighth most populated city in California, and the 45th largest city in the United States. With a population of 432,897 as of 2019, it serves as a trade center for the San Francisco Bay Area; its Port of Oakland is the busiest port in the San Francisco Bay, the entirety of Northern California, and the fifth busiest in the United States of America. An act to incorporate the city was passed on May 4, 1852, and incorporation was later approved on March 25, 1854, which officially made Oakland a city. Oakland is a charter city.

A bachelor's degree or baccalaureate is an undergraduate academic degree awarded by colleges and universities upon completion of a course of study lasting three to seven years. In some institutions and educational systems, some bachelor's degrees can only be taken as graduate or postgraduate degrees after a first degree has been completed. In countries with qualifications frameworks, bachelor's degrees are normally one of the major levels in the framework, although some qualifications titled bachelor's degrees may be at other levels and some qualifications with non-bachelor's titles may be classified as bachelor's degrees.

University of California, Berkeley Public university in California, USA

The University of California, Berkeley is a public research university in Berkeley, California. It was founded in 1868 and serves as the flagship institution of the ten research universities affiliated with the University of California system. Berkeley has since grown to instruct over 40,000 students in approximately 350 undergraduate and graduate degree programs covering numerous disciplines.


Schelling served with the Marshall Plan in Europe, the White House, and the Executive Office of the President from 1948 to 1953. [4] He wrote most of his dissertation on national income behavior working at night while in Europe. He left government to join the economics faculty at Yale University.

Marshall Plan U.S. initiative to help Western Europe recover from WWII

The Marshall Plan was an American initiative passed in 1948 to aid Western Europe, in which the United States gave over $12 billion in economic assistance to help rebuild Western European economies after the end of World War II. Replacing the previous Morgenthau Plan, it operated for four years beginning on April 3, 1948. The goals of the United States were to rebuild war-torn regions, remove trade barriers, modernize industry, improve European prosperity, and prevent the spread of Communism. The Marshall Plan required a reduction of interstate barriers, a dropping of many regulations, and encouraged an increase in productivity, as well as the adoption of modern business procedures.

Europe Continent in the Northern Hemisphere and mostly in the Eastern Hemisphere

Europe is a continent located entirely in the Northern Hemisphere and mostly in the Eastern Hemisphere. It is bordered by the Arctic Ocean to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Asia to the east, and the Mediterranean Sea to the south. It comprises the westernmost part of Eurasia.

White House Official residence and workplace of the President of the United States

The White House is the official residence and workplace of the president of the United States. It is located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C. and has been the residence of every U.S. president since John Adams in 1800. The term "White House" is often used as a metonym for the president and his advisers.

In 1956, "...he joined the RAND Corporation as an adjunct fellow, becoming a full-time researcher for a year after leaving Yale, and returning to adjunct status through 2002." [5] In 1958 Schelling was appointed professor of economics at Harvard. That same year, he "co-founded the Center for International Affairs, which was [later] renamed the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs." [6]

The Weatherhead Center for International Affairs is a research center for international affairs and the largest international research center within Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences. It is headed by Michèle Lamont.

In 1969 Schelling joined Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, where he was the Lucius N. Littauer Professor of Political Economy. [4] He was among the "founding fathers" of the "modern" Kennedy School, as he helped to shift the curriculum's emphasis away from administration and more toward leadership. [6]

John F. Kennedy School of Government School of public administration of Harvard University

The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University is a public policy and public administration school, of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States. The school offers master's degrees in public policy, public administration, and international development, grants several doctoral degrees, and many executive education programs. It conducts research in subjects relating to politics, government, international affairs, and economics. Since 1970 the school has graduated 17 heads of state, the most of any educational institution.

He conducted research at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), in Laxenburg, Austria, between 1994 and 1999.

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis international research organization in Austria

The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) is an international research organization located in Laxenburg, near Vienna, in Austria. IIASA conducts interdisciplinary scientific studies on environmental, economic, technological and social issues in the context of human dimensions of global change. IIASA’s mission is "to provide insights and guidance to policymakers worldwide by finding solutions to global and universal problems through applied systems analysis in order to improve human and social wellbeing and to protect the environment."

Laxenburg Place in Lower Austria, Austria

Laxenburg is a market town in the district of Mödling, in the Austrian state of Lower Austria. Located about 20 km (12 mi) south of the Austrian capital Vienna, it is chiefly known for the Laxenburg castles, which, beside Schönbrunn, served as the most important summer retreat of the Habsburg monarchs.

Austria Federal republic in Central Europe

Austria, formal name: the Republic of Austria, is a country in Central Europe comprising nine federated states. Its capital, largest city and one of nine states is Vienna. Austria has an area of 83,879 km2 (32,386 sq mi), a population of nearly nine million people and a nominal GDP of $477 billion. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Hungary and Slovakia to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the west. The terrain is landlocked and highly mountainous, lying within the Alps; only 32% of the country is below 500 m (1,640 ft), and its highest point is 3,798 m (12,461 ft). The majority of the population speaks local Bavarian dialects as their native language, and German in its standard form is the country's official language. Other regional languages are Hungarian, Burgenland Croatian, and Slovene.

In 1990 he left Harvard and joined the University of Maryland School of Public Policy and University of Maryland Department of Economics. [7] In 1991, he accepted the presidency of the American Economic Association, an organization of which he was also a Distinguished Fellow. [8]

In 1995, he accepted the presidency of the Eastern Economic Association. [9]

Schelling was a contributing participant of the Copenhagen Consensus. [4] [10]

Honors and awards

In 1977, Schelling received The Frank E. Seidman Distinguished Award in Political Economy.

In 1993 he was awarded the Award for Behavior Research Relevant to the Prevention of Nuclear War from the National Academy of Sciences. [11]

He received honorary doctorates from Erasmus University Rotterdam in 2003, Yale University in 2009, and RAND Graduate School of Public Analysis, as well as an honorary degree from the University of Manchester in 2010. [12] [9] [8]

He was awarded the 2005 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, along with Robert Aumann, for "having enhanced our understanding of conflict and cooperation through game-theory analysis." [3]

Personal life

Schelling was married to Corinne Tigay Saposs from 1947 to 1991, with whom he had four sons. Later in 1991 he married Alice M. Coleman, who brought two sons to the marriage; they became his stepsons. [13] [14]

Schelling died on December 13, 2016 in Bethesda, Maryland from complications following a hip fracture at the age of 95. [7]

Schelling's family auctioned his Nobel award medal, fetching $187,000. They donated this money to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit that fights hate and bigotry, and advocates for civil rights through litigation. Alice Schelling said her late husband had credited Smoky the Cowhorse by Will James, the winner of the Newbery Medal in 1927, as the most influential book he had read. [15]

Notable works

The Strategy of Conflict (1960)

The Strategy of Conflict, which Schelling published in 1960, [16] pioneered the study of bargaining and strategic behavior in what he refers to as "conflict behavior." The Times Literary Supplement in 1995 ranked it as one of the hundred most influential books in the 50 years since 1945. [17] In this book Schelling introduced concepts such as the "focal point" and "credible commitment."

The strategic view toward conflict that Schelling encourages in this work is equally "rational" and "successful." [16] He believes that it cannot be based merely on one's intelligence, but must also address the "advantages" associated with a course of action. The advantages gleaned, he says, should be firmly fixed in a value system that is both "explicit" and "consistent." [16]

Conflict too has a distinct meaning. In Schelling's approach, it is not enough to defeat your opponent. Instead, one must seize opportunities to cooperate. And in most cases, there are many. Only on the rarest of occasions, in what is known as "pure conflict," he points out, will the interests of participants be implacably opposed. [16] He uses the example of "a war of complete extermination" to illustrate this phenomenon. [16]

Cooperation, where available, may take many forms, and thus could potentially involve everything from "deterrence, limited war, and disarmament" to "negotiation." [16] Indeed, it is through such actions that participants are left with less of a conflict and more of a "bargaining situation." [16] The bargaining itself is best thought of in terms of the other participant's actions, as any gains one might realize are highly dependent upon the "choices or decisions" of their opponent. [16]

Communication between parties, though, is another matter entirely. Verbal or written communication is known as "explicit," and involves such activities as "offering concessions." [16] What happens, though, when this type of communication becomes impossible or improbable? This is when something called "tacit maneuvers" become important. [16] Think of this as action-based communication. Schelling uses the example of one's occupation or evacuation of strategic territory to illustrate this latter communication method.

In an article celebrating Schelling's Nobel Memorial Prize for Economics, [18] Michael Kinsley, Washington Post op‑ed columnist and one of Schelling's former students, anecdotally summarizes Schelling's reorientation of game theory thus: "[Y]ou're standing at the edge of a cliff, chained by the ankle to someone else. You'll be released, and one of you will get a large prize, as soon as the other gives in. How do you persuade the other guy to give in, when the only method at your disposal—threatening to push him off the cliff—would doom you both? Answer: You start dancing, closer and closer to the edge. That way, you don't have to convince him that you would do something totally irrational: plunge him and yourself off the cliff. You just have to convince him that you are prepared to take a higher risk than he is of accidentally falling off the cliff. If you can do that, you win."

Arms and Influence (1966)

Schelling's theories about war were extended in Arms and Influence, published in 1966. [19] The blurb states that it "carries forward the analysis so brilliantly begun in his earlier The Strategy of Conflict (1960) and Strategy and Arms Control (with Morton Halperin, 1961), and makes a significant contribution to the growing literature on modern war and diplomacy." Chapter headings include The Diplomacy of Violence, The Diplomacy of Ultimate Survival and The Dynamics of Mutual Alarm.

Micromotives and Macrobehavior (1978)

In 1969 and 1971, Schelling published widely cited articles dealing with racial dynamics and what he termed "a general theory of tipping." [20] In these papers he showed that a preference that one's neighbors be of the same color, or even a preference for a mixture "up to some limit," could lead to total segregation, thus arguing that motives, malicious or not, were indistinguishable as to explaining the phenomenon of complete local separation of distinct groups. He used coins on graph paper to demonstrate his theory by placing pennies and dimes in different patterns on the "board" and then moving them one by one if they were in an "unhappy" situation.

Schelling's dynamics has been cited as a way of explaining variations that are found in what are regarded as meaningful differences gender, age, race, ethnicity, language, sexual preference, and religion. Once a cycle of such change has begun, it may have a self-sustaining momentum. His 1978 book Micromotives and Macrobehavior expanded on and generalized these themes [21] [22] and is often cited in the literature of agent-based computational economics.

Global warming

Schelling was involved in the global warming debate since chairing a commission for President Jimmy Carter in 1980. He believed climate change poses a serious threat to developing nations, but that the threat to the United States was exaggerated. He wrote that,

Today, little of our gross domestic product is produced outdoors, and therefore, little is susceptible to climate. Agriculture and forestry are less than 3 percent of total output, and little else is much affected. Even if agricultural productivity declined by a third over the next half-century, the per capita GNP we might have achieved by 2050 we would still achieve in 2051. Considering that agricultural productivity in most parts of the world continues to improve (and that many crops may benefit directly from enhanced photosynthesis due to increased carbon dioxide), it is not at all certain that the net impact on agriculture will be negative or much noticed in the developed world. [23]

Drawing on his experience with the Marshall Plan after World War II, he argued that addressing global warming is a bargaining problem: if the world were able to reduce emissions, poor countries would receive most of the benefits, but rich countries would bear most of the costs.

Stanley Kubrick read an article Schelling wrote that included a description of the Peter George novel Red Alert , and conversations between Kubrick, Schelling, and George eventually led to the 1964 movie Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb . [24]

Schelling is also cited for the first known use of the phrase collateral damage in his May 1961 article Dispersal, Deterrence, and Damage. [25]

See also

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  17. "100 Most Influential Books Since the War (TLS)".
  18. "A Nobel Laureate Who's Got Game", The Washington Post, October 12, 2005.
  19. Yale University Press
  20. Thomas C. Schelling (1969) "Models of segregation," American Economic Review, 1969, 59(2), 488–493.
       _____ (1971). "Dynamic Models of Segregation," Journal of Mathematical Sociology, 1(2), pp. 143–186.
  21. Thomas C. Schelling (1978) Micromotives and Macrobehavior, Norton. Description, preview.
  22. Schelling, Thomas C (2006). "Some Fun, Thirty-Five Years Ago". Handbook of Computational Economics. Elsevier. 2: 1639–1644. doi:10.1016/S1574-0021(05)02037-X. ISBN   9780444512536.
  23. Schelling, Thomas C. (2007). "Greenhouse Effect". In Henderson, David R. (ed.). Concise Encyclopedia of Economics (1st ed.). Library of Economics and Liberty. Retrieved December 7, 2017.
  24. Thomas C. Schelling, 2006 prologue to 'Meteors, Mischief, and War', in Strategies of commitment and other essays, Harvard University Press, 2006.
  25. Schelling, T. C. (1961). "INFORMS PubsOnline". Operations Research. 9 (3): 363–370. doi:10.1287/opre.9.3.363.
Preceded by
Finn E. Kydland
Edward C. Prescott
Laureate of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics
Served alongside: Robert Aumann
Succeeded by
Edmund Phelps