Sometime RBCer Andy Sabl will be giving this week’s Marschak Colloquium at UCLA: room C301 at the Anderson School, Friday from 1-3. His topic is “Leadership and the Struggle for Focal Points.” The talk will show how Schelling’s ideas about focal points can be used to explicate the analysis of politics in Hume’s History of England. Looks to me like genuinely pathbreaking stuff, and way ahead of most “rational choice” political science.
There’s a lunch first; if you’d like to come, please send me an email.
Update Andy tells me that he won’t have much to say about Hume in the talk; we’ll have to wait for Andy’s much-anticipated book on the History of England as an essay in political philosophy.
[abstract at the jump]
Since Thomas Schelling’s Strategy of Conflict, economists and political scientists have studied problems of coordination: situations in which each of several agents has an interest in doing as others do, but has trouble figuring out what that will be. Schelling’s analysis centers on focal points: aspects of the choice situation that jump out at us, for perceptual or conceptual reasons. If each of several agents sees a focal point and suspects that others see the same one, all can coordinate. More recent work has interpreted leadership as an attempt to stress certain focal points over others and create coordination solutions where none, or too many, would otherwise exist. This insight suggests opportunities for leaders, and both opportunities and dangers for everyone else. In particular, leaders can manipulate “asymmetric” or “biased” games—in which all agents have an interest in coordinating but each of several solutions benefits some agents much more than others—to their own advantage and that of their followers, at others’ expense. The talk will explore both positive and normative issues arising out of this research agenda, in contexts as varied as military battles, party politics, revolutions, and political songs. It will stress in particular how a coordination perspective can lend analytic bite to the study of leadership and rescue it from the shallow and windy reputation that it often has and usually deserves.