Levitt on Schelling

Some blogs by well-known academics work well (notably the Becker-Posner blog), but others are disappointments.

For me, the Freakonomics blog is decidedly in the latter category. I was lukewarm about the book, but I enjoy reading the economic investigations of Steven Levitt. Sadly, the blog is more a relentless promotional tool for the book and, now, the occasional New York Times column.

Fortunately, the pattern is broken today with Levitt’s recollections of his class with Nobel prizewinner Thomas Schelling. A charming, must-read both on Schelling and on Levitt’s views on the utility – or otherwise – of game theory.

To my mind, Schelling represents the very best of game theory. He was a pioneer in the field, a man of ideas. Unfortunately for game theory, the simple ideas that are so alluring were quickly mined. What followed was less interesting. Modern game theory has become extremely mathematical, notation heavy, and removed from everyday life. Many of my colleagues would not agree with me, but I think game theory has failed to deliver on its enormous initial promise. I’m not the only one who feels this way. I was recently speaking with a prominent game theorist. He told me that if he knew what he knew and he were just getting started in the profession today, no way would he be a game theorist.

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