Thomas Schelling is a political economist conspicuous for wandering an errant economist. In "Choice and Consequence," he ventures into the area where rationality is ambiguous in order to look at the tricks people use to try to quit smoking or lose weight. He explores topics as awesome as nuclear terrorism, as sordid as blackmail, as ineffable as daydreaming, as intimidating as euthanasia. He examines ethical issues wrapped up in economics, unwrapping the economics to disclose ethical issues that are misplaced or misidentified.With an ingenious, often startling approach, Schelling brings new perspectives to problems ranging from drug abuse, abortion, and the value people put on their lives to organized crime, airplane hijacking, and automobile safety. One chapter is a clear and elegant exposition of game theory as a framework for analyzing social problems. Another plays with the hypothesis that our minds are not only our problem-solving equipment but also the organ in which much of our consumption takes place.What binds together the different subjects is the author s belief in the possibility of simultaneously being humane and analytical, of dealing with both the momentous and the familiar. "Choice and Consequence" was written for the curious, the puzzled, the worried, and all those who appreciate intellectual adventure."
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(229mm x 152mm x 22mm)
Harvard University Press
Publisher: Harvard University Press
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US Kirkus Review »
Political economist Schelling (JFK School of Government, Harvard) specializes in trying to untangle problems of economic policy - distinguishing the problem-solving aspects from the ethical and political concerns. In this collection of 15 previously published essays, he takes up such issues as gasoline pricing, policies regarding organized crime, decisions involving terminally ill patients, and much else - including the rationality of New Year's resolutions. Schelling believes in economics as a science of choice; and though he often criticizes his fellows - for putting issues in terms of "efficiency," for example, instead of saying that a potential solution is preferable because it lets more people have more of what they want - his faith never wavers. Dealing with the social cost of death, for example, Schelling lays out some of the ways in which death is special: its impact on families; the fact that it comes only once, and awesomely; the fact that it is generally treated as a low-probability event during an individual lifetime, etc. But death is an important economic concern in areas from insurance costs to government budgetary items - those that effect statistical deaths through overall health impact. The first set of exceptional considerations makes death difficult to deal with; Schelling, however, thinks we should find ways for the "consumer" to think about what it's worth (in individual costs) to reduce the risk of death. So he devises some hypothetical questions about how much income an individual might willingly defer to lessen the likelihood of untimely death over fixed periods of time; then, he puts the question in terms of an individual as a member of a group - what would it be worth to each to lower the probability within the group? Schelling is trying to reduce the question to a size meaningful for the individual, so that a reasoned choice can be expressed. The alternative is to rely on behavior - consumer behavior, the linchpin of welfare economics - and that is misleading because individuals facing an immediate choice may not choose as they would collectively at a distance. Finding the right distance is his concern; but whether the issue is death or the decision to quit smoking, it isn't clear that economic reasoning adds anything to the analysis of ethical questions. Is the individual who extracts a promise from others not to let him out of a painful experience the same one who pleads to be let out while under pain? When Schelling gets through, the answer isn't any clearer; he never takes sides and argues for a particular position. A technician's approach to sticky questions - likely to be discussed in academic circles. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - Thomas C. Schelling
Thomas C. Schelling is Distinguished University Professor, Department of Economics and School of Public Affairs, University of Maryland and Lucius N. Littauer Professor of Political Economy, Emeritus, Harvard University. He is co-recipient of the 2005 Nobel Prize in Economics.