Really smart people have different styles of interaction with others, in person or in print. Some of them make you feel dumb, either because they’re showoffs, or because you can’t understand what they’re saying, even though you know it’s worth learning, or because they treat smart as a zero-sum game. Some of them make you feel smarter because you pick up a really cool insight you can use, but never would have thought of alone. Some make you feel really smart because you asked a good question, worthy of them, and they have an answer you can understand.
Schelling is in the small subclass of the last group who not only have ideas you would not have, but who make you smart because he presents them as ways to have similar ideas. After five minutes or a day with Tom Schelling, either over lunch or reading his work, you get better at thinking like Tom Schelling and can go out and have really cool insights of your own, using the roadmaps he shares. And the maps cover almost the whole landscape of human behavior, at our worst (aiming missiles at each other and leaving a mattress in the highway) and at our best (trying to do the right thing amid ill-designed institutions and conventions).
I’m sure that somewhere in his writing is a chapter that explains why the selection committee took a decade too long to order up his laurel wreath, but they finally got it and I’m pleased to throw this petal into the blizzard of roses headed his way from friends, colleagues and admirers this morning.