Thomas C. Schelling, Nobel Prize winner, dies

Thomas C. Schelling was a game theorist and retired University of Maryland professor who received the Nobel Memorial Prize in economics for insights credited with lessening the nuclear threat during the Cold War.

Thomas C. Schelling, a game theorist and retired University of Maryland professor who received the Nobel Memorial Prize in economics for insights credited with lessening the nuclear threat during the Cold War, died Dec. 13 at his home in Bethesda. He was 95.

The cause of death was complications from a hip fracture, said his son Daniel Schelling.


Dr. Schelling's career took him from government to academia and across disciplines, including economics, foreign policy, urban planning and psychology.

Trained as an economist, he was an adviser and analyst during the Harry S. Truman administration and grew fascinated by negotiation during the Cold War confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union.


He later taught three decades at Harvard University and retired in 2003 from the University of Maryland, where he was emeritus professor in the School of Public Policy and Department of Economics.

He was best known for his elaboration of game theory, the mathematical study of decision-making amid conflict. For policymakers engaged with the Soviets, his writings — particularly the 1960 book "The Strategy of Conflict" — became field guides for averting a nuclear crisis.

He looked upon war as bargaining, in which competing sides are influenced by incentives and deterrents, promises and threats, and the abundance or dearth of information. He was reportedly among advisers who recommended the "hotline" connecting Washington and Moscow that was established in 1963.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, in announcing Dr. Schelling's Nobel Prize, honored him and Israeli economist Robert Aumann, who shared the economics award in 2005, with "having enhanced our understanding of conflict and cooperation."

Asked at the time he won the Nobel by The Baltimore Sun whether he considered himself an economist, Dr. Schelling quipped that although much of his work lay outside that field, he "could still pass the Ph.D. examinations."

The Morning Sun


Get your morning news in your e-mail inbox. Get all the top news and sports from the

He said game theory could be used in wide-ranging applications, including "if you try to discipline a child or deal with employees, or employers or neighbors."

In the 1970s, he used game theory to show how some neighborhoods became racially segregated, even when residents said they do not object to integration. "Whites and blacks may not mind each other's presence, may even prefer integration, but may nevertheless wish to avoid minority status," he wrote.

Before being awarded the Nobel, Dr. Schelling received attention from filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, who read his 1960 article "Meteors, Mischief and Wars." Dr. Schelling later acted as a consultant on Mr. Kubrick's 1964 film, "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb."


Thomas Crombie Schelling was born in Oakland, Calif., in 1921. His father was a naval officer, and his mother, a former teacher, was a homemaker. He earned a bachelor's degree in economics from the University of California at Berkeley in 1944 and, after working in Europe for the Marshall Plan, a doctorate in economics from Harvard in 1951.

His first marriage to Corinne Saposs ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife of 25 years, Alice Coleman Schelling of Bethesda; four sons from his first marriage, Andrew Schelling of Boulder, Colo., Tom Schelling of Ashland, Mass., Daniel Schelling of Salt Lake City and Robert Schelling of Putney, Vt.; two stepsons, David Coleman of Mountain View, Calif., and Robert Coleman of Portland, Ore.; a sister; 12 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

Dr. Schelling said he was "by temperament" an optimist. In his Nobel lecture, he remarked that "the most spectacular event of the past half-century is one that did not occur. We have enjoyed 60 years without nuclear weapons exploded in anger."

The Washington Post