Home > Uncategorized > Thomas Schelling for dummies

Thomas Schelling for dummies

from Lars Syll

The concept of “critical mass” was originally created by Thomas Schelling to explain a variety of different “tipping point” actions and behaviours in society.

The concept was elaborated on in Schelling’s masterful Micromotives and Macrobehavior (1978).

Here’s what it’s (almost) all about …


  1. José M. Sousa
    August 14, 2015 at 2:39 pm


  2. Jorge Buzaglo
    August 14, 2015 at 6:00 pm

    That’s a bright side. A less bright side is shown by Fred Kaplan :

    “Thomas C. Schelling won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences this week. Today’s papers note his ingenious applications of “game theory” to labor negotiations, business transactions, and arms control agreements. But what they don’t note is the crucial role he played in formulating the strategies of “controlled escalation” and “punitive bombing” that plunged our country into the war in Vietnam.” The article shows a photograph of Schelling with the inscription: “His ‘game theory’ didn’t work so well in the real world.”(From: “All Pain, No Gain: Nobel laureate Thomas Schelling’ little known role in the Vietnam War” http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/war_stories/2005/10/all_pain_no_gain.html)

  3. Michael Kowalik
    August 14, 2015 at 11:47 pm

    Another way to look at the concept of “critical mass” is not that individuals are ‘attracted’ to activities that involve a ‘sufficient’ number of others but, rather, lack courage to engage in intense, social activities unless certain volume of others had already performatively affirmed the relevant activity as socially acceptable in that particular setting. The stage effect of pioneering action, of being an originator, seems to be associated with social anxiety for most. It seems that most people lack courage or confidence to act/think independently but are very much determined by the actions/meanings/truths of others.

  4. Macrocompassion
    August 16, 2015 at 5:14 pm

    This is about social psychology, not macroeconomics! Again the humanities approach leads to another red herring. It is vital to understand how our social system works and not over-simply about of what it consists.

    • bruceedmonds
      August 27, 2015 at 5:58 pm

      To make sense… (1) economics has to incorporate social psychological processes (2) (as Schelling also pointed out) you need to be able to relate micro-level behaviour and macro-level outcomes. One cannot avoid what are considered social psychological phenomena and considerations to understand macroeconomic outcomes.

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