Thomas Schelling: Circles Are Not the Norm

"There was time when wise people thought the planets should revolve in circles. When observations showed incontrovertibly that they did not, the question was asked, "Why not?" People tried to figure what kept the planets from displaying perfect circles. In the end it was realized that, in accordance with the laws of motion and gravitation, there never had been any reason to expect circles. Circles were not the norm; ellipses were.

"When we ask why the 'free market' in [giving] Christmas cards doesn't lead to optimal exchange, the answer is that it is not a market and there was no reason to expect optimal results in the first place. The free market, when it works, is that special case of knowledgeable voluntary exchange of alienable commodities. Only some ellipses are circles." -- Micromotives and Macrobehavior, p. 33



  2. "Only some circles are ellipses."

    Did he get mixed up there, or would it have ruined the poetry of his argument to say the correct statement?

    (I.e. all circles are ellipses, only some ellipses are circles. In the spirit of his argument, I think he could've ended up, "Only sometimes are the ellipses actually circles.")

    1. No, the transcriber screwed up. Fixed now.

  3. "Only some circles are ellipses." Is that a typo? Surely it's only some ellipses are circles?

  4. Look on the bright side -- you have smart, observant readers ... :)


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