Injustice

Borders carries Malcolm Gladwell’s ripoff of Tom Schelling’s work, but doesn’t carry Schelling’s latest book. I guess it’s better to have a good publicist than a Nobel Prize if you want to sell books.

I was annoyed last night, visiting the Borders bookstore in Westwood, to find that Borders has decided not to carry Thomas Schelling’s new collection of essays, Strategies of Commitment (Good news: Dutton’s does carry it; you can expect a review shortly.)

But I was even more annoyed, as the clerk at Borders offered to special-order the Schelling book, to see on the “Non-fiction Bestsellers” rack a huge stack of Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point, which is nothing but ripoff of one of Schelling’s ideas. To add insult to injury, Gladwell doesn’t even have Schelling’s name in his index. If you want to sell your book, I guess it’s better to have a good publicist than a Nobel Prize.

If you don’t have a Dutton’s nearby, you can order Strategies of Commitment from Amazon:

The global-warming essay, which I’ve read, is worth the price all by itself.

Update A reader wants to know how Gladwell in 2002 could have stolen from Schelling in 2006. Fair question. It wasn’t the new book Gladwell ripped off; it was Micromotives and Macrobehavior, published in 1978 based on papers Schelling was writing in the late ’60s and early ’70s. The basic tipping idea appears in “On the Ecology of Micromotives,” published in the Fall 1971 issue of The Public Interest.

That essay had personal significance for me. Reading it as a senior in college, I was thunderstruck. When I said to my professor, “I have to learn how to do that!” he said “Well, Schelling teaches at the Kennedy School.” I said “The where?” and sent off an application. I didn’t even know there was a discipline called “policy analysis,” but once I heard of it I knew what I wanted to study. That’s what saved me from law school.

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

7 thoughts on “Injustice”

  1. Now, now. As a half-assed musician married to a brilliant painter, and lucky to be associated with a truly great musician, I can tell you this: Talent alone, without a taste for publicity, is a non-starter in today's Marketing World, and reflecting for too long on those who have more of the latter than the former is the road to dyspepsia, at best.
    Granted, Sr. Gladwell should have had the decency to cite Schelling (from whom I, too, was lucky enough to learn, if only briefly). That fact does not, however, translate into it being a healthy idea to be nasty to Mr. G. for his PR skills. Not suggesting here that the Triumph of Promotion is a good thing, only that it is, in fact, a thing.
    In addition, if one shops in chain bookstores (the mere act of which indicates participation in the New World of Wonders), one shouldn't expect to find too many selections that are very far astray of the marketing budgets of booksellers. Do you also attempt to order foie gras (a notable dish, as highly regarded amongst carnivorous gourmands as Dr. Scheling is among policy analysts and fine thinkers) at Chili's? Could it be that merely buying, even by special order, the Schelling book at a local bookshop would do more in the long run for the culture of ideas than posting here? Your vote does count.
    Besides: between the two tippingistes, which is most likely to actually be remembered ongoing?

  2. As an indication of demand, the Toronto Public Library has 8 copies of Strategies of Commitment on order, with 2 hold request, and 134 copies of Tipping Point with 836 requests.
    The only copy of Choice and Consequence is shown as "trace" which means someone has chosen to steal it and consequently no one else can read it.

  3. Next thing we know, you will be off to take a Thomas C. Schelling Visiting Professorship somewhere.

  4. I think Ezra Klein has a point, though: that popularizers do provide a tremendous service in getting ideas like Schelling's out to the public. (Unless Schelling's prose is as readable as Gladwell's, which I honestly don't know but am inclined to doubt.)
    That said, Gladwell should have given Schelling credit.

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