Thomas Schelling, Nobelist and game theory pioneer has died

Henry Farrell in the Washington Post:

ScreenHunter_2446 Dec. 15 20.06The University of Maryland has confirmed the death of Thomas Schelling, perhaps the most important economist and social scientist of his generation. Most social scientists hope that their ideas will be read, and perhaps, if they are lucky, change people’s minds a little. Schelling’s ideas made the Cold War what it was and changed the world.

Schelling’s intellectual contribution will receive a lot of discussion over the coming days and weeks. He was one of the most important thinkers about game theory, an approach to modeling strategic interactions that has remade entire fields of study in the social sciences. Yet his work is anything but technically forbidding. He was a beautifully clear and precise writer. His three major books, “The Strategy of Conflict,” “Arms and Influence,” and “Micromotives and Macrobehavior” can be read by anyone with even a minimal exposure to social science thinking. Of these three, “The Strategy of Conflict” is a classic — a book that ought be read by everyone. Its ideas are not only relevant to international politics but to everyday life, the study of criminal behavior, and multitudes of other topics.

Schelling’s key arguments explain how communication happens. If we want to get others to do what we want, we need to communicate with them. Sometimes, when we do not have conflicting interests, we can coordinate on a shared solution, even if we are not able to talk with each other very well. If we want to meet in New York, but are not able to communicate with each other about the place and time, we can draw on our common knowledge to figure out a plausible place and time to meet up (perhaps Grand Central Terminal at midday). This is because some possible places and times to meet are salient — that is, our shared knowledge highlights them as ‘obvious’ solutions to the problem of coordinating on place and time. This simple insight turns out to have profound consequences for the study of cooperation.

More here.