Educator, Economist, Journalist (1921-2016)
American economist Thomas Schelling was awarded the 2005 Nobel Prize for advancing our understanding of conflict and cooperation through game-theory analysis. Thomas Schelling’s distinguished career took him from studying economics at the University of California, before moving on to work for multiple federal agencies, Ivy league schools and private companies. In 1993, the National Academy of Sciences awarded him the ‘Award for Behaviour Research Relevant to the Prevention of Nuclear War’.
Schelling’ most famous book was the 1960 tome ‘The Strategy of Conflict’, which pioneered the use of bargaining and strategic behaviour in the nuclear arms race. His work helped ease tensions surrounding potential nuclear war during the Cold War standoff between America and the USSR. Schelling broke down the intricate problems of superpower nuclear strategy to the idea of a Wild West duel: “If both were assured of living long enough to shoot back with unimpaired aim, there would be no advantage in jumping the gun and little reason to fear that the other would try it.” The novelty of this book also involved introducing us to new game theoretical terms such as ‘credible commitment’ and ‘focal point’. Schelling’s book is noted by the Times Literary Supplement as one of the hundred most influential books published since 1945.
Schelling also extended his game theoretical framework to the issues of global warming. He believed climate change could be a danger to the developing world, but that its threat to the USA has been widely exaggerated. He posited that addressing global warming is akin to solving a bargaining issue because, if the world reduces emissions, LDCs will receive most of the benefits but the developed world will incur most of the costs.
“There is a tendency in our planning to confuse the unfamiliar with the improbable.”
“I sometimes wish we could have, over the next five or ten years, a lot of horrid things happening-you know, like tornadoes in the Midwest and so forth-that would get people very concerned about climate change.”
– Thomas Schelling