Nobel for Schelling

Finally! Tom Schelling wins the Nobel Prize in Economics.

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.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.