Nobel Laureate Visits IOP

Professor emeritus and KSG ‘founding father’ Schelling makes rousing return

The co-recipient of the 2005 Nobel Prize in Economics and a “founding father” of the Kennedy School of Government, Thomas C. Schelling, received a warm homecoming at the Institute of Politics last night at a forum celebrating his achievements.

Schelling, the Littauer professor of political economy, emeritus, earned the Nobel for his application of game theory to the economics of conflict and cooperation.

Schelling addressed a crowd of approximately 400 students, friends, and faculty, touching on topics ranging from some of Schelling’s ground-breaking theories to their applications in the current conflict over nuclear proliferation in Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, and India.

“Our policies regarding the spread of nuclear arms throughout the world are, if not disastrous, very bad,” said Schelling. “If I can use the Nobel prize for one thing, it would be so I could speak where I may be listened to. The current taboo on the use of nuclear weapons, which has been incredibly powerful, is one of the greatest assets we have; we must never, under any circumstances, undermine it. Nations developing their own nuclear weapons must be instructed in how to deal with them in a sophisticated way—not a stupid one, as the U.S. once was.”

Before he spoke, Schelling was toasted by former colleagues Glenn C. Loury, a professor of economics at Brown University; Edith M. Stokey, a former lecturer at the Kennedy School; Richard J. Zeckhauser, Plumpton professor of political economy at the Kennedy School; and David T. Ellwood, dean of the Kennedy School.

Schelling, who graduated from Harvard with a PhD in economics in 1951, proved an enthusiastic former Cantabrigian.

“I am incredibly happy to be back among such good people and good friends,” he said. “Since I received this award in October of last year, things haven’t slowed down at all. If not for that, I’d probably be happy to be sitting at home with my wife playing Sudoku.”

Schelling’s life hasn’t always been fun and game theory.

“What really drove me to study economics was growing up in the midst of the depression,” he told the audience. “It seemed to be the greatest calamity that could happen, next to war. Economics was too important not to study.”

Throughout his long history in the field, Schelling’s theories have proven pivotal not only in economics but in public policy and international strategy as well, best illustrated in his most influential work, “The Strategy of Conflict.”

“As a probable economics major, it was really interesting for me to get a feel of the application of economics in the realm of political processes,” said observer Anna Y. Zhang ’10. “I’m really curious about game theory now. I can’t wait to read Schelling’s books.”