“If I’m looking too pleased, I can’t help it.”

Tom Schelling, perfectly himself in his moment of triumph.

(See update)

Peter Reuter told me that the Quicktime audiotapes of Tom Schelling’s press conference yesterday morning was “pure Tom: just like having dinner with him.”

Exactly right. Charming, informal, modest, lucid, funny.

I note with pleasure that virtually everyone on the Web seems as pleased as I am. Two explanations occur to me:

1. Compared to the work of other social scientists and in particular other cutting-edge economists, Schelling’s work is unusually accessible. Lots of people who aren’t scholars by trade feel that they learned something important, something usable, from reading one or another of Schelling’s books or essays.

2. Schelling’s sheer niceness comes through in his writing; le sytle est l’homme meme. It’s always pleasant when nice guys finish first. (Peter asked me if I could come up with the name of anyone who dislikes Schelling, and I couldn’t.)

There are exceptions, of course. Fred Kaplan is dismayed that Schelling turned out to not to be omniscient with respect to Vietnam (though, as Dan Drezner points out, Kaplan’s statement of the history is … selective); Todd Gitlin, who obviously hasn’t gotten any smarter since he was one of the dumber ’60s radicals, proudly displays his utter ignorance of Schelling’s work by claiming that Schelling didn’t “get” non-zero-sum games, which is precisely the reverse of the truth. Oddly, neither Kaplan nor Gitlin seems aware that one of Schelling’s prize students was Daniel Ellsberg or that the only person he ever collaborated with on a book was Morton Halperin. (Schelling remains close to both men.)

Michael Mandel admires Schelling but seems dismayed that game theory isn’t a perfectly predictive Theory of Everything. (Tyler Cowen tries to straighten him out, unfortunately unsuccessfully. If you doubt the utility of game theory, just ask an evolutionary biologist.)

But you can’t please everyone, and nearly everyone is happy: not only Dan and Tyler, but also Mike and Steve on this site and Atrios and Kieran Healy and Max Sawicky and Virginia Postrel and Sangamitra Ramachander at the Hindu Business Line and Will Wilkinson at the Fly Bottle Bob Subrik at Stationary Bandit and Jeffrey Lewis at ArmsControlWonk and Alan Tabarrok and Adam Shostack at Emergent Chaos and even the editors of the Washington Times.

A uniter, not a divider.

Update More on the utility of game theory (contra Michael Mandel) here.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com