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115 of 123 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Basic primer on operations research / systems analysis
Micromotives & Macrobehavior is one of those little economics books that everyone "knows" but few have actually read. It is an amusing little collection of the ways in which "everyday" behavior can yield surprising results in the aggregate scope. We see actions from our own point of view, and it's interesting to formalize how these actions sum up...
Published on October 31, 2000 by Yaumo Gaucho

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars Some interesting points but deadly
Interesting look into behavior but repetitive and I really wanted to put it down. I was looking for something more like the "Tipping Point" and this reminded me of the time I sat next to a plastic bag salesman on a long flight; at first I was impressed that someone could know so much about plastic bags but by the end I put on my headphones. It does explain why...
Published 3 months ago by Momma Bear


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115 of 123 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Basic primer on operations research / systems analysis, October 31, 2000
Micromotives & Macrobehavior is one of those little economics books that everyone "knows" but few have actually read. It is an amusing little collection of the ways in which "everyday" behavior can yield surprising results in the aggregate scope. We see actions from our own point of view, and it's interesting to formalize how these actions sum up in the big picture -- not always in the way we'd intuitively expect.
As always, Schelling is highly readable, and has great examples and insights. However, this is not a state-of-the-art treatise on behavior systems / preference aggregation / choice processes, nor is it adequate as a standalone introduction to economics for a beginner. Because other reviews of this book seem to be unabashedly positive, let me mention two possible downsides to this book:
--First, is this really economics? It seems more like operations research, or "systems theory," applied to human agents. Operations research and economics are of course deeply intertwined, but it would be a mistake for a layperson to read this book and think that this is what economics is all about. The market aspects of economics are largely left out, as is most of the economist's toolkit, and questions the economist asks. Perhaps a better place for a novice to start, on similar material, to learn more about the "big picture" of economics would be the work of Gary Becker, or (second choice) Paul Krugman.
--Secondly, most, if not all, of this book's content will be old-hat to anyone who has been trained to think like an economist or applied mathematician. The models are very nice, but if you have basic undergraduate-level experience with microeconomics or operations research, you will know what Schelling is about to say before he says it. The book's back cover raves about Schelling's formalization of the concept of a traffic jam, but it's been done before, many times, even before this book's 1978 publication. This is in no way a serious book about such problems for the practitioner or theoretician; the examples are interesting, but the analysis isn't particularly new.
One positive aspect of this book, and one way in which it's a better primer on economics than some others, is that it provides an introduction to the usefulness, power, and also fallacies of using models (or simulations) of human behavior. Schelling's models are very powerful, but it's also easy to see ways in which a slight change in the way the model is set up would drastically change results -- all models are very arbitrary, and maybe Schelling doesn't do enough to warn readers that arbitrary assumptions sometimes drive his results. (For example, the book has a model of a ski chairlift, in which Schelling's "surprising" result is covertly driven by his arbitrary assumption about the speed with which people can seat themselves on the chairs.)
Overall, this is a worthwhile read, even if it's neither a broad overview of economic science, nor cutting-edge theoretical work. Schelling's cleverness in creating models, then explaining them, makes this book "worth it" -- and this can be a good lead-in for Schelling's other work, e.g. "Strategy of Conflict."
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Supplement to an Applied Econ Course, April 6, 2002
Schelling explains the world of externalities with fun examples, supported by economic logic and mathematical models. Economists describe externalities as non-optimal market solutions that arise from individuals making decisions in their own self-interest. These are interesting because most of economics deals with describing how Adam Smith's "invisible hand," individuals acting in their own self-interest, produces efficient market solutions. Notable examples of externalities are pollution, traffic congestion, and education. Education is a positive externality, while the former two are negative externalities.
Although you don't have to be a mathematician or economist to understand Schelling's writing, those who aren't may get bored with the litany of mathematical possibilities that he uses to explain why some models help explain much of the phenomena he discusses. Barring that criticism, many of his examples entice the reader to think about things in a new light. For example, why do audiences tend to sit in the middle or rear seats and not up front during performances or why do we suffer from traffic congestion? The author describes how the overall result of too much traffic or empty seats in the front rows occurs from the numerous individual decisions people make on where to sit or drive. Thus, if the front ten rows in an auditorium were empty, everyone would be better off moving forward ten rows. Nothing would change in their relative positions in the audience, but everyone could hear better. Why doesn't this occur? Read Micromotives and Macrobehavior to find out.
As an economics instructor, I would consider using this book as a supplement to a course in applied economics (or mathematics). Schelling's writing could help interest student's in the subject matter of externalities more than many of the textbooks on the market. Great read!
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brain food! One of the best books for the analytical mind, July 27, 2001
By 
Joe Waitress (San Diego, CA USA) - See all my reviews
Schelling's Micro Motives and Macro Behavior is food for the hungry brain. It's written for everyday folks who don't have a background in economics, but are willing to experiment. I'd recommend it for anyone who is studying the social sciences--especially if you're trying to understand where people come up with all these theories about politics, behavior, and the human world at large. Reading Schelling is like watching a favorite TV show. His prose is delightful, his selection of examples is easy for anyone to relate to (like buying lemons or adjusting a thermostat), and the way he writes, you forget that your brain is getting an intellectual workout. This book is positively sublime. You can read through it, cover to cover, in no time at all, and it's not until the end that you'll realize that you've been training your mind in positive economic theory --without the jargon, the mind-boggling graphs and charts, the formal models, the calculus, the supply and demand curves and all that googley-gunk that comes with most any primer on economics. Schelling's work is not just a classic, it's a masterpiece! And you don't need to be an economist or a doctoral candidate to appreciate it.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Makes you want to be an economist, September 20, 2000
By A Customer
Have you ever been in one of those situations where you want to behave just like everyone else (dress-code at dinner parties, crossing the street in spite of red light, going to a hip club instead of a deserted) or NOT behaving just like everyone else (going to exotic countries and empty beaches, buying undervalued stocks) -- of course you have. Life is made of it. Schelling starts with simple situations like these and shows how important social problems can be modelled and understood from them. It is the same basic principles at work! The result is splendid, insightful and very useful for all kind of analysis, both in academic and in private life.
Schelling has a lovely way of writing. I have just cruised through a hundred pages without noticing the clock. Then I figured I probably should give this book a favourable review. You do not have to be an economist to enjoy this book, although you might want to become one after you have read it.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good for the right audience, November 6, 2000
By A Customer
I agree with Pierce Inverarity's remarks about this book not being too ground-breaking micro-economics. But the book is still splendid reading for the right audience. When I gave the book five stars, it was not as an economist (yes, I also heard it all in the first weeks on the introductory course in micro-economics). The book is splendid because it teaches a basic economic world-view in a way which can engage people who are utterly uninterested in this kind of thinking.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 1970s Freakonomics, March 22, 2006
Game theory has been criticized for being able to explain anything, yet having little predictive capability. Whatever the case, Thomas Schelling's book is a gem. He takes everyday life phenomena and applies some systematic analysis as to why these things happen. It's a quick read and when you are done you too will keep viewing any issues coming your way as if they were seeking an equilibrium. With the varied topics and colorful examples it's the 1970s equivalent of "Freakonomics".
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars On the importance and fun of economics, November 23, 2007
By 
Micromotives and Macrobehavior shows what fun it must be to be an economist. More specifically, it shows what fun it must be to be Thomas Schelling. It's not a book of high theory; it is a book of high particularity. When Schelling walks down the street, I imagine him with a giant grin or, barring that, a notepad in his hand to take down his thoughts on whatever he might be looking at; every last bit of the world must fascinate him. The great fun in economics, to me, is not what it has to tell me about optimal investment strategies -- finance being only a small, if important, part of life -- but rather what it has to say about human behavior, and particularly human behavior in the face of other humans.

There are some basic problems of arithmetic that our desires might well create; Schelling very charmingly entitles a chapter on this subject "The Inescapable Mathematics of Musical Chairs." If we all want to live a solitary life in the country, we'll all move to the country and find ourselves surrounded by the people we were trying to escape. We can't all dispose of our Canadian quarters, says Schelling: you pawn off your quarters on me, I pawn them off on my neighbor, and yet still the total stock of quarters is exactly where it was. This accounting for musical chairs gives economics much of its power. It's what happens when you take your eyes off individuals for just a moment and think about their behavior in crowds.

What happens if no one in a university can stand being in the bottom 10% of his class? The bottom 10% will leave. Now 90% of the original class is left, and there's a new bunch in the bottom 10%. They leave. And so forth. Eventually, if this process continues, the class will whittle down to 10% of its original size. An unrealistic example, surely, but it's illustrative. The most famous model of this sort in Micromotives and Macrobehavior is the segregation model. Suppose few people wish to live in a racially homogeneous community; everyone desires some integration. But suppose people don't want to be too isolated: white people have no problem living with black people, so long as the white people aren't the minority in their neighborhoods. What will happen to the racial composition of neighborhoods? Schelling simulates a small city on a standard 8×8 cheesboard, with nickels and dimes representing white and black people. The board starts out in one equilibrium where everyone is satisfied with his neighbors and no one is too isolated. Then there's a minor shock to the system: a few people move away at random around the board. Suddenly black people have no neighbor on one side, and only white people on the other. What was a satisfying equilibrium before is now unsatisfying to at least one person on the board, so he moves to a neighborhood whose racial composition is more to his liking. This process continues until we've reached a new equilibrium. More often than not, this equilibrium involves massive segregation. No one desired that it be this way; people only wished that those near them looked somewhat like them.

A few questions naturally present themselves here. How many equilibria are there? How many stable equilibria are there? (Perfect integration was an equilibrium at the start of the experiment, but it was unstable in the face of mild shocks.) The convergence to segregation depends on how homogeneous people wish their neighborhoods to be; if everyone desires that 50% of his neighbors be like him, does that change anything? Also, do the conclusions change when we move from a small city modeled by an 8×8 board to a larger one?

One of the lessons has been well-rehearsed elsewhere (e.g., No One Makes You Shop At Wal-Mart): in many cases, the decisions that we make individually cannot be expected to result in outcomes that we all would have chosen had we coordinated. You don't even need to look at the level of an entire society; Schelling has plenty of examples from everyday life. Maybe the easiest is something that happened to him while driving back from Cape Cod: a mattress had fallen off the roof of someone's car and had snarled traffic for hours. If the driver of that car with the mattress could somehow have borne (in the jargon: "internalized") the costs that he inflicted on everyone else, he'd probably have stopped his car, fetched the mattress, and saved everyone a lot of lost time. Or if all the other drivers could have coordinated somehow, they might have been able to get that mattress off the road and save everyone behind them the time that they all lost. Absent any coordination, though, that mattress might still be laying there.

This coordination doesn't need to come in the form of an enforcer with guns, necessarily; social norms can do it. What if we've all been trained by our parents to feel great shame at not helping others? You can certainly imagine social structures in which people would fight others for the right to clear off that mattress. If it's hard to envision this, suppose that selflessness were actually sexy.

The direction you turn from here is asking how societies solve coordination problems -- how we encourage each other to behave in a way that helps out everyone. Micromotives and Macrobehavior is chiefly valuable in that it gets you thinking about these problems, and realizing that it's not especially easy: merely scaling up your own virtuous behavior won't necessarily cut it.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Golden Rule and Self-Restraint, November 22, 2006
By 
Matthew Rafat (Campbell, CA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Micromotives and Macrobehavior (Paperback)
Schelling's book covertly drafts a model of economic support for the Golden Rule. While many of his examples may be repetitive, ultimately, we learn that by restraining ourselves in various enterprises, such as energy conservation, we are able to produce overall benefits for society. However, the hitch is that without critical mass or some basis for keeping rebels in line, no one adheres to the collective system and therefore no one benefits. Thus, the author intelligently posits an argument that in properly regulated environments, cooperation and selflessness produce stability and will lead to long-term success.

What is more interesting are Schelling's numerous examples and asides about human behavior that, once examined carefully, yield a greater understanding about everyday phenomena. For example, he writes, "Most people think that inflation reduces purchasing power without stopping to notice that their own pay increases are somebody else's inflation, and at least some of it must cancel out." This book is filled with such astute and not easily apparent statements. He also carries economic theory into social theory, showing that if all men married women four years younger than them where population is growing at three percent annually, eventually women of marrying age may outnumber men by more than 12%. The book has several of these nuggets, but leaves out an obvious and one of my favorite lessons about education: when a student goes to school, s/he not only "loses" the money s/he spends on tuition, but also her/his earning power during the years spent studying. For this reason, one could argue that it seems more sensical to attend school when there is a recession and to work when unemployment is low.

The glaring gap in this book is the problem of freeloaders--what do we do, for example, about the neighbor who waters his lawn excessively during a water shortage, thereby creating less incentive for others to conserve water? The author most likely believes that education will assist this problem, but this may be an idealistic notion at best. Still, Schelling manages to prove that cooperation rather than competition in some cases may produce better results, leading to viable arguments against selfish behavior.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, July 5, 1999
By A Customer
The subject of this book is simple: some times events that seem the result of planning can be explained as a result emerging out of individual actions. Schelling analysis is maginificent, well deserving this book status as a classic. The model, or quasi-model, on housing discrimination is a piece of art.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Book, April 23, 2010
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This review is from: Micromotives and Macrobehavior (Paperback)
This is one of the most brilliant books I have read. It takes the simplest of phenomena and makes insightful to profound observations, made only more brilliant by the density and rapidity of examples through Schelling takes the reader.

It should mandatory reading for freshman college courses everywhere. Because it is fundamentally about critical thought.
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Micromotives and Macrobehavior
Micromotives and Macrobehavior by Thomas C. Schelling (Paperback - October 17, 2006)
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