Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Ken Arrow (1921-2017)

How will we do Economics without Ken Arrow?

After living to a vigorous 95, he passed away today after a mercifully short illness.  He was in the hospital for about two weeks, then went home. He had ups and downs, but a week and a half ago I found him dressed and at his computer.

 Even when he was feeling poorly, he was always the smartest person in the room.

Update: here's the NY Times obit--Kenneth Arrow, Nobel-Winning Economist Whose Influence Spanned Decades, Dies at 95

Here's the Stanford obituary: Nobel Prize-winner Kenneth Arrow dies
Nobel Prize-winning economist Kenneth Arrow was a leading figure in the field of economic theory. He inspired generations of students through his decades-long teaching at Stanford.

And the Washington Post: Kenneth Arrow, Nobel laureate and seminal economist with wide impact, dies at 95

And Scott Kominers in Bloomberg: Kenneth Arrow Made Great Models, and Was One, by 

Here's Ken's nephew Larry Summers in the WSJ: Farewell to Kenneth Arrow, a Gentle Genius of Economics
Lawrence H. Summers remembers his uncle, Nobel Prize-winning economist Kenneth Arrow

Here's Vic Fuchs (writing about Arrow's 1963 paper Uncertainty and the Welfare Economics of Medical Care):
Kenneth Arrow’s Legacy And The Article That Launched A Thousand Studies

Update, April 29:
The Lancet remembers Ken Arrow. Their obituary is gated, but here are two sentence that I contributed...

 "When asked if Arrow is indeed up there with there with greats, the Stanford University Professor of Economics Alvin Roth, himself a Nobel Laureate, answers with a corrective twist. “The greats are up there with him”, he replies. “He was arguably the most important economist of the 20th century.
" “He was always the smartest person in the room”, says Roth, “but he wore it very lightly”

Here's more by Larry Summers: Kenneth Arrow Commemoration at the Institute for Advanced Studies


Anonymous said...

Ken is a hero to many of us in economics and he will be missed.

But this photo is very disrespectful. No man wants to be seen, let alone remembered, at their weakest point in life. That was a private moment between the two of you and should remain that way.

Lones Smith said...

His imprint is everywhere in our field, and it is hard to work in any corner without standing on his shoulders. Beyond the many fields he is known for, he did path breaking initial work in search theory (McCall credits the solution of the reservation wage equation to Arrow's notes) and principal agency. Once I had an idea, and sleuthed the literature, and Arrow had done it. He deserved two Nobel Prizes....

Al Roth said...

I don't agree that the photo was disrespectful, but I've deleted it in case others might agree with the first comment. Ken was full of vitality and keen intelligence even when he was in the hospital.

Drew Fudenberg said...

When he was hospitalized in Jerusalem in 2015 he was energetic, witty, and matter of fact; he didn't seem embarrassed to be seen there. And as in Al's post he was still the smartest person in the room.
I think Ken was one of the best economists of all time; I am still running across and learning from papers of his I hadn't read before. But what I will remember most is his unfailing good humor and smile.

David Kreps said...

It's a story you will hear from many people, but here is one version. Back in the mid-1970s, as a doctoral student in OR, I had the privilege of attending the summer workshop at Stanford under the aegis of the IMSSS. Kenneth was the great man at those workshops (although among many others, Wilson, Aumann, Hahn, and Sheshinski were there all the time, and Debreu, Mas Colell, Radner, Harsanyi and even David Gale would occasionally drive down from Berkeley, while the "younger" generation included Rothschild, Stiglitz, and Spence). Seminars ran up to two hours---the presenter would speak for an hour or so, we'd break for cookies and coffee, and then there would be another 45 minutes.

Kenneth would typically arrive just at the start or a few minutes late. He would go through his mail. He would (without looking) flip his pencil or pen and catch it. And then, often as not, he would doze off. But coffee and cookies would revive him, and after the break, he'd be ready to weigh in.

In one instance, the speaker (whom I will not name) made a bit of a hash on a point, and a question came from the audience. Kenneth began to answer the question. The speaker bristled and said, "Prof. Arrow, I know you are smarter than me, but I've been thinking about this for a long time, and you've been thinking about it for a few hours, so I think I know more about this than do you. Please let me answer the question."

To which Frank Hahn responded, "My dear boy, Prof. Arrow certainly is better qualified than are you to answer that question or any other." And, in this instance and many, many others, Frank was correct.

People can certainly disagree, but for my taste, Kenneth Arrow was the greatest economist of the 20th century. Many will agree.