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Nuclear Strategy Theorist Dies

Thomas C. SchellingThomas C. Schelling

Thomas C. Schelling, an economist and Nobel laureate whose interest in game theory led him to write important works on nuclear strategy and to use the concept of the tipping point to explain social problems, including white flight from urban neighborhoods, died on Tuesday at his home in Bethesda, Md. He was 95.

The death was confirmed by Richard Zeckhauser, a former student and colleague, the New York Times reported.

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.

Professor Schelling analyzed superpower negotiations in the way that he analyzed the conflicts between, say, a blackmailer and his client, a parent and a child, or management and labor. In each case, he wrote, “there is a mutual dependence as well as opposition,” with each side seeking out tests of strength at less than crisis levels.

Among other counterintuitive propositions he put forth, Professor Schelling suggested that one side in a negotiation can strengthen its position by narrowing its options, using as an example a driver in a game of chicken who rips the steering wheel from the steering column and brandishes it so his opponent can see that he no longer controls the car.

 

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