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Micromotives and Macrobehavior

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  1,045 ratings  ·  59 reviews
"Schelling here offers an early analysis of 'tipping' in social situations involving a large number of individuals." —official citation for the 2005 Nobel Prize

Micromotives and Macrobehavior was originally published over twenty-five years ago, yet the stories it tells feel just as fresh today. And the subject of these stories—how small and seemingly meaningless decisions a
Paperback, 272 pages
Published October 17th 2006 by W. W. Norton Company (first published 1978)
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Jun 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
It's hard to know exactly how I would feel about this book if I hadn't had phd level micro economic theory before. Schelling doesn't assume a strong background in economics or game theory, and (it seems to me), he takes up a great deal of time explaining concepts like multiple equilibria, externalities, best response functions (although he doesn't characterize them that way), and the prisoner's dilemma clearly and carefully. Someone with a phd level economics background might become bogged down ...more
Nick Klagge
Apr 27, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economics
Although this is definitely a classic book, I have to say that I did not enjoy reading it very much. Published in '78, it's the spiritual forebear of "Freakonomics," in that it is about applying economic reasoning and analysis to situations that don't involve the exchange of money for goods and services. I'm not even really a fan of "Freakonomics," but it is more enjoyable than MM because it focuses heavily on specific real-world issues. Schelling's book is entirely hypothetical. He discusses so ...more
Haaris Mateen
May 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
At the core of Schelling's book is the thesis - now well accepted - that individual actions driven by individual incentives have a habit of aggregating into all kinds of interesting macro phenomena. And therefore achieving a big picture policy target is intimately connected by the natural constraints of the problem, or by the actual incentives for people on the ground, or by the way heterogeneity in responses interact as we scale up.

Schelling was a pioneer in the use of game theory to pressing
Greg Linster
Sep 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: need-to-buy
Schelling provides some interesting insight on a myriad of economic/social issues through the lens of an economist. There are certainly more entertaining books written by economists, but this book is worth reading.
Andrew MacKie-Mason
Oct 04, 2011 rated it liked it
I found Schelling's book to be rather light reading, but that didn't stop it from being both enjoyable and informative. Even though the ideas he presents aren't that deep, he does a really good job of teasing out really interesting examples in which intuitive hypotheses lead to very unintuitive results. Like some other reviewers, I thought that the book didn't really hold together as a unified whole, but that wasn't a huge problem. The Nobel Prize lecture, disconnected as it was, was very intere ...more
Lance Cahill
Dec 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020
Very much a classic. Many of the points seem obvious, but Schelling’s treatment is rigorous without being math heavy. His overview of sorting (residential segregation, for instance) was interesting and is worth a read.

The book was reprinted in light of Schelling’s 2005 Nobel Prize and (more likely) due to the success of Freakonomics.
Case in point, purchased my copy back before 2008 at a suburban Kansas City Border’s.

Many other reviews have compared it to Freakonomics. Frankly, I don’t see the
Sam Dotson
Jul 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
Micromotives is an exciting exploration of how group behavior is shaped by individual preferences (among other things). These emergent phenomena are interesting to read about and Schelling makes them accessible to most.

The most famous example from this book is the "Schelling Model of Segregation" which posits that segregation is nothing more than a consequence of individual preferences, "de facto." While this may be true in some spheres, like where people sit in a cafeteria, readers should be c
Basel Al-Dagen
Jan 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This work of Schelling as any by him has enhanced our understanding of conflict and cooperation through game theoretic analysis.

This great work even with its moderate page size deals with a great array of problems from showing how small negligible preferences can lead to great aggregate outcomes like when analyzing segregation and the dying seminar,to quick but intriguing analysis of models and families of models to equilibrium analysis,to the extension of the prisoner dilemma to n players and g
Dave Mac
Dec 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
The fact that individual preferences or actions can lead to unintended or non-designed aggregate/social outcomes is a fundamental idea in economics. After all, this is exactly what Smith was on about when he described the order borne out of each individual's economic decisions as being seemingly guided by an "invisible hand". Another result economists are aware of, despite the popular conception of the "invisible hand", is that the aggregate outcome or order resulting from individual choices nee ...more
Jun 27, 2018 rated it liked it
This book explores models and analytical methods to reason about patterns observed on collective population based on individual choices. Author takes us through a range of examples to show how our (sometimes weak) preferences or preference from limited set of participants in a population can lead to interesting patterns on the aggregate. It's also very interesting to see how it's not possible to use observed patterns on aggregate population to infer individual choices. The book starts from very ...more
Alessandro Veneri
Sep 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book taught me to think a little more analytically about what happens in standard situations when individual, free choices lead to aggregate behaviours that nobody wants.
Schelling warns the reader that every depicted function is nothing more than what it is - a model, an ideal scenario, free from its subtle, but no less important features. Schelling's functions aim at "illustrating the kind of analysis that is needed, some of the phenomena to be anticipated, and some of the questions worth
Jan 20, 2019 rated it it was ok
I can see how this book could be interesting to some, but I did not enjoy reading it, and the amount of insight I gained wasn’t sufficient to make up for my lack of enjoyment. I felt the author sometimes worded his hypothetical scenarios in a hard to grasp way, so I had to read over them several times to understand them. It wasn’t that they were complex to grasp, simply the words he used to convey them were imprecise or too vague. I also feel as though he repeated himself a lot, giving many sequ ...more
Rafael Batista
Apr 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Anyone interested in everyday behavior and the social sciences should definitely pick this up and read through the first couple of chapters. But the book is a bit all over the place. Sometimes it feels like there are too many examples; other times, not enough. The framework Schelling tries to set up can be hard to follow. Nevertheless, the big ideas in the book are eye-opening and the examples are drawn from everyday life.

Whether you read it in its entirety or just the first couple chapters and
Franck Chauvel
I liked the topic very much: how our local decisions may have global consequences. The book is aging but I found it very relevant.

As I understand it, this book is actually an introduction to Game Theory, a topic sometimes approached quite formally with many formulas and Greek symbols. Here the text is in plain English, but I found the content difficult and I’d have welcomed more pictures and, I must admit, a formula from time to time. I’d advise pen and paper to get the most of the text.
Dec 27, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: book-club
A microeconomics textbook hidden as a non-fiction book.

The books main theme, recursive effects of behaviours, is explained in different variations and with different explains over multiple chapters. The style is unfortunately quite repetitive and I wonder who is the target audience: for economists, the book does not contain too many new insights, but for non-economist, it is even too technical and also not relevant enough.
Luke Stovak
Nov 13, 2020 rated it liked it
Interesting book. Did a great job contextualizing economics for the layperson.
Obviously, this book would do better through the medium of a lecture. Following the graphs and numbers he invokes is difficult in the nearly totally written format. Lots of flipping back pages for prior information and difficulty following variables, graphs, and the math throughout.
MJ Jabarian
Jan 07, 2021 rated it really liked it
A classic presentation of how the activities and behavior of the individual impact the larger entity

Describes socio-economic models that reflect "critical mass" situations that mirror the cyclic behavior of population groups

One of the most famous portions of Schelling's book is his discussion on integration/segregation
Interesting book - although personally i disliked the use of graphs when (imo) they weren't necessary. Almost as if the author tried to make the scenarios a lot more mathematical then it needed to be. But I enjoyed the chapters on tipping and other social phenomena. ...more
Nick Dare
Jun 18, 2017 rated it liked it
Interesting take on aggregate decision making. I would have liked if he had proposed more ways to influence the group for the highest social effect.
Nov 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics, economics
Chapter 7 (binary choice multi-person prisoner's dilemma) is enough to make you buy this book. The Nobel lecture on deterrence has a nostalgic feel to it. ...more
Jan 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Graphs, math
Katie Yaeger
Jul 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
The original read on this topic was interesting and explained well, though a little dated.
Feb 09, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: society, econ
The book is a classic and well worth its fame for conveying in plain terms the powerful idea (too often skipped over from popular press to academia) that individual choice aggregates sometimes in unexpected ways into observable macro phenomena.
On the flip side if you're looking for academic depth or a breadth of places where the principle can be applied you're setting yourself up for disappointment. It is maybe one of those books that become obvious (only) once you've gotten the point.
May 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
The author argues that there is no presumption that self-serving behaviors of individuals will lead to a collectively satisfactory result.

Economics is unique in that everyone interacts with the system in a multitude of ways.  The author wishes to explore the understanding if these interactions through the introduction of a plethora of different social interaction and group dynamic models.

Critical mass is the amount if fissile material undergoing fusion that can energetically sustain itself.  The
Jun 30, 2009 rated it liked it
I sought out this book hoping to gain insights into the preconditions that can produce sudden, violent market moves. Other than identifying the obvious, that the actions of an individual can be conditional on the actions of others, there was little help for the original quest. Having said that, the examples are creative enough to give a broadened perspective on the importance of game theory situations to human decision making.

The included Nobel Prize acceptance lecture concerned the likelihood
Apr 23, 2013 rated it liked it
I have mixed feelings for this book. In chapter one and two, the author gives many different examples, but not in-depth insights into each of those. So, it is a sort of boring. However, the author successfully illustrates how the concept of 'critical mass' from physics can be applied to human behaviors. Chapter four interests me in that the mechanism of racial residential segregation explains geographic phenomena. Chapter seven is the most interesting part--the author introduces the concept of u ...more
Arjun Narayan
Jun 08, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: econ-finance
I was disappointed by this book. I stopped reading closely about 32% of the way, and started skimming the chapters. This book is very well written, and assumes almost nothing. That was part of the problem: it was tedious to work through. While I appreciated revisiting some very basic assumptions, revisiting tautologies such as the basic invariants in double-entry bookkeeping quickly got tedious. So I gave up. Even the Nobel lecture reproduced as the final chapter was not particularly insightful. ...more
Jun 09, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: keep
This is the second time I started reading this book, and it's the second time I had to stop early. Today we have a lot of books that cast a wide net over the social sciences. I thought it would be fun to read this book, which was decades ahead of the trend.

But as much as I like to make fun of Malcolm Gladwell, his books and their ilk are better. While Micromotives makes a lot of interesting observations, it does not have the breadth of examples and diagrams that the current generation has.

I did
Nov 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
An excellent read. This is the seminal work on modelling of social phenomena. As economists go, Schelling is an accessible writer, with an understated wit. What little math is included is definitelymanageable - basic algebra - so your head won't explode, and the examples that Schelling includes do shed great light on the principles he discusses.

The final chapter, on binary choices which influence others, did get a bit thick - a significantly more academic approach. I'm going to have to reread th
Nils Lehr
The book itself is interesting, however, if you have had an extensive introduction to microeconomics before, you've covered a lot of it already. Furthermore, I would have loved a mathematical appendix, where he actually shows the calculations formally and proves some of his statements. At times I kept thinking about a problem fairly long until realizing that his understanding of the situation, i.e. his basic assumptions, were simply different than mine. Definitely not the path breaking book I th ...more
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Thomas Crombie Schelling was an American economist and professor of foreign affairs, national security, nuclear strategy, and arms control at the School of Public Policy at University of Maryland, College Park. He is also co-faculty at the New England Complex Systems Institute. He was awarded the 2005 Nobel Prize in Economics (shared with Robert Aumann) for "having enhanced our understanding o ...more

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“I define game theory as the study of how rational individuals make choices when the better choice among two possibilities, or the best choice among several possibilities, depends on the choices that others will make or are making.” 5 likes
“let me remind you of the particular characteristics of all of these behavior systems that I am trying to focus on. It is that people are impinging on other people and adapting to other people. What people do affects what other people do.” 2 likes
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