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Micromotives and Macrobehavior (Fels Lectures on Public Policy Analysis) Paperback – October 17, 2006
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“Schelling's [book] transformed the way many economists think about the relationship between competition and social welfare.”
- Robert H. Frank, New York Times
From the Back Cover
Micromotives and Macrobehavior deals with all involve systems of behavior where a person reacting, responding, and adapting to his surroundings fails to perceive, or doesn't care, how his actions combine with the actions of others to produce unanticipated results. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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On style, I will register my serious complaints. I love math, I'm an engineer, I resent books on technical subjects that oversimplify the material -- but I felt like this book dragged on unnecessarily with tedious hashings-out of graphs and equations. Schelling can bring up interesting patterns of human behavior in an anecdotal voice, but when he tries to formalize it at all he exhibits no gift for accurate summarizing, no sense of how much detail is appropriate. By analogy, I would ask you if you really want to watch someone do long division, or if you'd be content to assume they're not making it up when they report 37 out of 51 is about 74 percent.
Schelling doesn't actually make you watch him do long division, but once you understand the mode of equilibrium analysis he does, going through iterations of such analysis amounts to the same thing.
Publishers in the 70's had not honed the industry of popular science writing to the refinement we see today. A strong editor could have collaborated with Schelling to make this a dazzling book, but instead it is more like a professor simply trying to adapt his lectures to an audience that hasn't taken as much math as his actual graduate students have.
I skimmed big stretches of the middle of the book. In each middle chapter he introduces an idea, an analysis method, and then ... works through iterations. Unless you expect homework assignments on the subject, following that last in detail is not necessary.
This brings us to the second reason to value this book. If you know a smart high-schooler who is looking for intellectual challenges and doesn't know what to do with their lives, this might be a really good book to have them try. If they read beyond the first chapter, they should take some college economics because it almost certainly will suit them. (If they love the first chapter but can't get into the rest at all, that's also worth discovering and suggests they should try sociology or psychology.)
For the casual educated layperson with an interest in economics, I don't recommend this book. The basic ideas are found in most other better and/or newer books on the topic. This is of course a testament to Schelling's contribution to the field, but unless you're a real nerd on the topic you don't get anything by going to the source, as it were. Note as well that Schelling's Nobel lecture, the final chapter of the book, is available for free online...