Copyright ©2013 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

We've been reporting this week on a bipartisan budget deal in Congress. It comes after much wrangling behind close doors and, certainly, some gnashing of teeth. For some context on the moves and counter-moves inherent in a deal like this, we looked to literature and to our series of this week's must read. Here's author Tim Harford.

TIM HARFORD, BYLINE: At times like these, I like to pick up a book by Thomas Schelling. It's called "The Strategy of Conflict." Schelling had one of those amazing 20th century lives. He was a trade negotiator after World War II, an important Cold War strategist. And eventually, in his 80s, he won a Nobel Prize for Economics.

His book is the perfect one to read during these budget negotiations. He takes game theory, which is a mathematical tool, and he uses it in a very human way. He's trying to understand the struggle for power. What he finds is that there isn't such a big difference between large arguments and small ones, a political dispute and a Cold War standoff. He even shows similarities between a suicide bomber and a misbehaving toddler. You can't reason with either of them, which gives them the upper hand.

And a lot of important people listened. Henry Kissinger took him seriously, so did Stanley Kubrick. He turned to Schelling for ideas when he was making "Dr. Strangelove."

Schelling's theories can seem cold. But for me, they're comforting. They remind me of three things. First, that sometimes people take extreme, even insane positions for tactical reasons, not because they are extreme or insane. Second, that even in the most bitter fight, there's usually common ground. And finally, most importantly, they remind me that if the U.S.A. and the Soviet Union could find ways to get along, so can we. We don't always have to like each other to get things done.

BLOCK: Tim Harford is the author of forthcoming book, "The Undercover Economist Strikes Back." The book he recommended was "The Strategy of Conflict" by Thomas Schelling.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: