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Micromotives and Macrobehavior [Paperback]

Thomas C Schelling
2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

27 Oct 2006
Originally published over twenty-five years ago, "Micromotives and Macrobehavior" still feels fresh today. And the subject of these stories - how small and seemingly meaningless decisions and actions by individuals often lead to significant unintended consequences for a large group - is more important than ever. In one famous example, Thomas C. Schelling shows that a slight-but-not-malicious preference to have neighbours of the same race eventually leads to completely segregated populations. The updated edition contains a new preface and the author's Nobel Prize acceptance speech.

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Micromotives and Macrobehavior + The Strategy of Conflict + Arms and Influence: With a New Preface and Afterword (Henry L. Stimson Lectures, Yale University) (The Henry L. Stimson Lectures)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Rev Ed edition (27 Oct 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393329461
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393329469
  • Product Dimensions: 20.8 x 14.3 x 1.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 350,769 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Mr. Schelling's [book] transformed the way many economists think about the relationship between competition and social welfare." Robert Frank, The New York Times"

About the Author

THOMAS C. SCHELLING is the co-winner of the 2005 Nobel Memorial Prize for Economic Science. He is the Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of Economics and Public Policy at the University of Maryland.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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8 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars hmmm, I expected more 9 May 2006
Format:Paperback
Schelling provides a lot of examples to illustrate the idea that individual preferences and actions may add up in very special ways and the macro outcome can be something nobody wanted. The problem is that the book does not go behind the examples, no general models are proposed, the deeper insights are missing. I have to recognize that some exaples are so well elaborated, that the aforementioned problems do not seem important. In summary, I expected more from a Nobel-prize winner.
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Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  21 reviews
115 of 123 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Basic primer on operations research / systems analysis 31 Oct 2000
By Yaumo Gaucho - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Micromotives & Macrobehavior is one of those little economics books that everyone "knows" but few have actually read. It is an amusing little collection of the ways in which "everyday" behavior can yield surprising results in the aggregate scope. We see actions from our own point of view, and it's interesting to formalize how these actions sum up in the big picture -- not always in the way we'd intuitively expect.
As always, Schelling is highly readable, and has great examples and insights. However, this is not a state-of-the-art treatise on behavior systems / preference aggregation / choice processes, nor is it adequate as a standalone introduction to economics for a beginner. Because other reviews of this book seem to be unabashedly positive, let me mention two possible downsides to this book:
--First, is this really economics? It seems more like operations research, or "systems theory," applied to human agents. Operations research and economics are of course deeply intertwined, but it would be a mistake for a layperson to read this book and think that this is what economics is all about. The market aspects of economics are largely left out, as is most of the economist's toolkit, and questions the economist asks. Perhaps a better place for a novice to start, on similar material, to learn more about the "big picture" of economics would be the work of Gary Becker, or (second choice) Paul Krugman.
--Secondly, most, if not all, of this book's content will be old-hat to anyone who has been trained to think like an economist or applied mathematician. The models are very nice, but if you have basic undergraduate-level experience with microeconomics or operations research, you will know what Schelling is about to say before he says it. The book's back cover raves about Schelling's formalization of the concept of a traffic jam, but it's been done before, many times, even before this book's 1978 publication. This is in no way a serious book about such problems for the practitioner or theoretician; the examples are interesting, but the analysis isn't particularly new.
One positive aspect of this book, and one way in which it's a better primer on economics than some others, is that it provides an introduction to the usefulness, power, and also fallacies of using models (or simulations) of human behavior. Schelling's models are very powerful, but it's also easy to see ways in which a slight change in the way the model is set up would drastically change results -- all models are very arbitrary, and maybe Schelling doesn't do enough to warn readers that arbitrary assumptions sometimes drive his results. (For example, the book has a model of a ski chairlift, in which Schelling's "surprising" result is covertly driven by his arbitrary assumption about the speed with which people can seat themselves on the chairs.)
Overall, this is a worthwhile read, even if it's neither a broad overview of economic science, nor cutting-edge theoretical work. Schelling's cleverness in creating models, then explaining them, makes this book "worth it" -- and this can be a good lead-in for Schelling's other work, e.g. "Strategy of Conflict."
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Supplement to an Applied Econ Course 7 April 2002
By S. Miska - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Schelling explains the world of externalities with fun examples, supported by economic logic and mathematical models. Economists describe externalities as non-optimal market solutions that arise from individuals making decisions in their own self-interest. These are interesting because most of economics deals with describing how Adam Smith's "invisible hand," individuals acting in their own self-interest, produces efficient market solutions. Notable examples of externalities are pollution, traffic congestion, and education. Education is a positive externality, while the former two are negative externalities.
Although you don't have to be a mathematician or economist to understand Schelling's writing, those who aren't may get bored with the litany of mathematical possibilities that he uses to explain why some models help explain much of the phenomena he discusses. Barring that criticism, many of his examples entice the reader to think about things in a new light. For example, why do audiences tend to sit in the middle or rear seats and not up front during performances or why do we suffer from traffic congestion? The author describes how the overall result of too much traffic or empty seats in the front rows occurs from the numerous individual decisions people make on where to sit or drive. Thus, if the front ten rows in an auditorium were empty, everyone would be better off moving forward ten rows. Nothing would change in their relative positions in the audience, but everyone could hear better. Why doesn't this occur? Read Micromotives and Macrobehavior to find out.
As an economics instructor, I would consider using this book as a supplement to a course in applied economics (or mathematics). Schelling's writing could help interest student's in the subject matter of externalities more than many of the textbooks on the market. Great read!
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brain food! One of the best books for the analytical mind 28 July 2001
By Joe Waitress - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Schelling's Micro Motives and Macro Behavior is food for the hungry brain. It's written for everyday folks who don't have a background in economics, but are willing to experiment. I'd recommend it for anyone who is studying the social sciences--especially if you're trying to understand where people come up with all these theories about politics, behavior, and the human world at large. Reading Schelling is like watching a favorite TV show. His prose is delightful, his selection of examples is easy for anyone to relate to (like buying lemons or adjusting a thermostat), and the way he writes, you forget that your brain is getting an intellectual workout. This book is positively sublime. You can read through it, cover to cover, in no time at all, and it's not until the end that you'll realize that you've been training your mind in positive economic theory --without the jargon, the mind-boggling graphs and charts, the formal models, the calculus, the supply and demand curves and all that googley-gunk that comes with most any primer on economics. Schelling's work is not just a classic, it's a masterpiece! And you don't need to be an economist or a doctoral candidate to appreciate it.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Makes you want to be an economist 20 Sep 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Have you ever been in one of those situations where you want to behave just like everyone else (dress-code at dinner parties, crossing the street in spite of red light, going to a hip club instead of a deserted) or NOT behaving just like everyone else (going to exotic countries and empty beaches, buying undervalued stocks) -- of course you have. Life is made of it. Schelling starts with simple situations like these and shows how important social problems can be modelled and understood from them. It is the same basic principles at work! The result is splendid, insightful and very useful for all kind of analysis, both in academic and in private life.
Schelling has a lovely way of writing. I have just cruised through a hundred pages without noticing the clock. Then I figured I probably should give this book a favourable review. You do not have to be an economist to enjoy this book, although you might want to become one after you have read it.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good for the right audience 6 Nov 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I agree with Pierce Inverarity's remarks about this book not being too ground-breaking micro-economics. But the book is still splendid reading for the right audience. When I gave the book five stars, it was not as an economist (yes, I also heard it all in the first weeks on the introductory course in micro-economics). The book is splendid because it teaches a basic economic world-view in a way which can engage people who are utterly uninterested in this kind of thinking.
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