Thursday, July 2, 2020

John Harsayni, on Hungarian coinage (and a memorable conversation)

The title of this blogpost is ambiguous, but the picture should disambiguate it. (As far as I know, the late great game theorist, who initiated the literature on Bayesian games of incomplete information, never wrote about coinage):

Here's the story:

Hungarian Mint Commemorates Nobel Prize Winner János Harsányi
By CoinWeek -June 25, 2020

"János (or John Charles) Harsányi, the 1994 Nobel Memorial Prize laureate in Economic Sciences, was born in Budapest on May 29, 1920. His primary field of research was game theory, for which he was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize with John Forbes Nash and Reinhard Selten in Economic Sciences “For his ground-breaking work in the area of non-cooperative game theory and equilibrium analysis.” In the field of game theory, they were the first scientists to receive the Nobel Prize in Economics.
"The Hungarian Mint has issued a silver collector coin of 10,000 forints and a copper-nickel version of 2,000 forints on the 100th anniversary of the distinguished University of California at Berkeley researcher’s birth.
"The silver coin, with a face value of 10,000 forint is struck in .925 fine silver and weighs 31.46 grams. It costs $67.50. The non-ferrous metal 2,000 forint is produced from an alloy of copper (75%) and nickel (25%) and weighs 30.8 grams. It is priced at $19.95. The mintage limit of both the silver collector coin in proof finish and that of the non-ferrous version in BU finish is 5,000 pieces of each."

I don't need a coin to remind me of John, but reading about his monetization brought back a particularly memorable conversation.

In the summer of 1975, after completing my first year as an assistant professor at the University of Illinois, I drove back to California to spend the summer visiting Harsanyi at Berkeley. I had perhaps imagined many long conversations, but the way he made space for me was to give me his office, while he worked from home. So our conversations were not so frequent, and were somewhat formal: he called me Professor Roth, and I of course called him Professor Harsanyi.

On at least one occasion I drove him down to Stanford when there was a seminar we both wanted to attend. The conversation I recall most vividly came on the return trip from one of these, when we gave a lift up to Berkeley to Bob Aumann, who had purchased a used car there and needed to pick it up.  We all rode in my fairly small 1966 Ford Mustang (purchased used in 1971 when I began graduate school.)  I drove, Harsanyi sat in the front passenger seat, and Bob sat behind him

We had a lively conversation the whole way. What I remember about it were the forms of address. Bob and John, and Bob and I, were naturally on a first name basis. But, throughout the drive, Harsanyi called me Professor Roth, and I called him Professor Harsanyi.  I hope I didn't show that I thought it was hilarious, but it is possible that I addressed my passengers by name more often than strictly necessary. And so it went, Bob and John, Al and Bob, Professor Harsanyi and Professor Roth.

We stopped at the house Bob was going to, and as soon as the car door closed behind him, Professor Harsanyi turned to me and said "Professor Roth, perhaps it would be best if we went to a first name basis." 

And so we did.

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