Strategies of commitment

The author of Second Samuel had obviously read Tom Schelling’s essays on the art of commitment.

John Ikenberry, summarizing one theme in the work of Thomas C. Schelling:

To change the expectations or behavior of others, an individual &#8212 or government&#8212 must restrict his own options and give up freedom of action; the ability and the willingness of actors to make commitments shape the evolution of strategic relationships.

Schelling’s work on commitment, like much of his writing, is graced and strengthened with literary and historical references. Thucydides is among his favorites. But I don’t recall his finding this little story from Second Samuel about the revolt of Absalom against his father David.

And Ahithophel said unto Absalom: “Go in unto thy father’s concubines, that he hath left to keep the house; and all Israel will hear that thou art abhorred of thy father; then will the hands of all that are with thee be strong.”

Absalom’s problem is that anyone who thinks about supporting him has to worry about what will happen in case Absalom reconciles with David by, for example, restoring him to the throne in return for being recognized as his successor. By doing something unforgiveable in his father’s eyes, Abaslom reassures his followers that he won’t sell them out, because he can’t.

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: