Musical Chairs and Inescapable
To improve strategic planning and make situations more understandable Schelling frequently uses the metaphor of musical chairs to clarify and analyze social interactions. The metaphor encompasses a broad range of observations and behaviors in which the same patterns emerge in the aggregate regardless of how the individuals who comprise the aggregate behave. Perhaps too general to be thought of as a behavior model, it is more accurately seen as a reference to situations that involve certain inescapable mathematical relationships. Understanding the sometimes simple and at times counterintuitive nature of musical chairs can enable one to foresee relationships and outcomes valuable for rational choice decisions.
Regardless of how well or aggressively it is played, the pattern in musical chairs is always the same—one person always loses when the music stops. That is what he means by saying the same patterns emerge in the aggregate regardless of how the individuals who comprise the aggregate behave. Similarly, a day on the stock market may be described by television analysts as being dominated by “heavy selling” or “heavy buying.” However, a stock is only sold when someone buys it, so the amount of buying and selling is always equal, and the aggregate, or combined, pattern is like musical chairs. It is equal regardless of the behavior of individuals who are involved. Poker also illustrates this characteristic of aggregate outcomes being the same regardless of how well of poorly the individuals play. After all is said and done, when the game is over, the result is always the same; the total winnings and losses always add up to zero.
This general “musical chairs” characteristic can be divided into a number of observations of frequently occurring behavior that may help provide new ways of analyzing problems. One of these observations is “paired phenomena.” Like buying and selling on the stock market, many phenomena occur in pairs. At