In Memory of Honorary Doctor Thomas C. Schelling

The economist and Nobel Laureate Thomas C. Schelling (1921) passed away on Tuesday December 13. Schelling, who received an honorary doctorate of Erasmus School of Economics in 2003, was an American economist and professor of foreign policy, national security, nuclear strategy, and arms control at the School of Public Policy at University of Maryland, College Park. He was also co-faculty at the New England Complex Systems Institute. He was awarded the 2005 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences (shared with Robert Aumann) for "having enhanced our understanding of conflict and cooperation through game-theory analysis".

Thomas Schelling, who was one of the most important thinkers about game theory - an approach to modeling strategic interactions that has remade entire fields of study in the social sciences -, highlighted weaknesses in standard economic approaches, deploying vivid thought experiments.  He rarely cited other academics.

Schelling used basic insights to radically change the ways in which we think about conflict. He wrote important works, for instance on nuclear strategy. It was while working as an economist in the Truman administration that Professor Schelling became intrigued by the stratagems and negotiating ploys that he observed in international bargaining. In particular, as the Cold War developed, he became fascinated with the complexities of nuclear strategy, then in its infancy and a source of worldwide anxiety.

In 2003, Erasmus University Rotterdam awarded the honorary doctorate to Schelling because of his combined interest in theory and important policy issues. In his laudation, honorary promotor of Erasmus School of Economics Prof. Maarten Janssen said: ‘The emphasis on policy relevance in Schelling’s work has led him to warn economists that “the mathematical structure … should not be permitted to dominate the analysis” and that there “is a danger in too much abstractness”. The combination of theoretical innovation and policy orientation has made Schelling an influential scientist not only in economics, but also in political science, law, sociology and even medicine.’

Thomas Schelling published on a variety of fields such as military strategy and arms control, energy and environmental policy, climate change, terrorism, conflict and bargaining theory, racial segregation and integration, and health policy. Among his most influential publications are Micromotives and Macrobehavior (1978) and The Strategy of Conflict (1960).