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Thursday, March 02, 2017

Kenneth Arrow, 1921-2017

Debraj Ray:

Kenneth Arrow, 1921-2017: Professor Kenneth Arrow died on February 21, 2017, at the age of 95. He was widely regarded (along with Paul Samuelson and John Hicks) as one of the three greatest economists of the 20th century. He also happened to be my favorite economist of all time.    
Professor Dipak Banerjee, my teacher, introduced me to Kenneth Arrow in 1974, who appeared (much in the manner of Hindu god[esses]s for whom my mother had special reverence) in the form of a small yellow paperback. I acquired Social Choice and Individual Values from Dasgupta and Co. of College Street, and still have it. I was a first year undergraduate. That little book was a repository of the most profound logical thought. I had never seen anyone distill what appeared to be an abstract question in political economy into a theoretical device that cut sharply, and cut deep.
What was the question? Briefly, it was well known from the so-called Condorcet paradox that majority voting could produce nasty cycles in choices, even when the individual preferences involved in that voting process were perfectly reasonable.  That led to the question: was there any political system that could “reasonably” aggregate individual preferences? Now think about the question for a second: we know what majority voting is, but there is in principle an infinity of other systems. How could one ever formulate such a problem, let alone attempt to answer it? The very formulation — as axioms placed on an abstract mapping that connected individual preferences to their social counterpart — was sheer genius. But the apparatus was not only beautiful: it could also speak. It argued that under the minimal desiderata placed on the aggregator, there was no way of putting together individual preferences into a satisfactory social ordering; one that was cycle-free. ...

There is much, much more.

    Posted by on Thursday, March 2, 2017 at 11:42 AM in Economics | Permalink  Comments (5)


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