Another great tribute to the late Kenneth Arrow

This one is by the great Indian development economist, Debraj Ray. There is a ton of great material in this, so go read it please, posthaste! I can’t resist quoting the penultimate paragraph, with some great tidbits about Arrow’s famous quirks (and genius):

There are many stories about Ken Arrow. Some are semi-apocryphal. Some we can vouch for. For instance, I have seen him nod off during talks (including one that I gave) and then wake up to ask a remarkable question. And he did flip pencils in seminars, and I have seen him on at least one occasion attend a talk with his bicycle helmet on. Once Doug Bernheim and I, convinced that a speaker was wrong, paid no further attention to the seminar and tried to construct a counterexample together. Arrow somehow knew that that was what we were up to, because after the seminar he walked into Doug’s office (where we were still at it), wrote the required example on the board, did a little jig and walked away — complete with bicycle helmet. But one story possibly is apocryphal, and yet fully sums up the Ken Arrow that I was so fortunate to know. Arrow was in class, teaching. He was speaking fast, running as he always did with his thoughts. Students were frantically taking notes as the disembodied sentences emerged. And then, suddenly: “Stop, stop! That’s all wrong!” As the students frantically began to erase their jottings, he continued: “No, no, not what I said, what I was going to say.”

A profound loss for economics

Professor Kenneth Arrow, a titan of economic theory and Nobel laureate for economics, died yesterday at the age of 95. The New York Times published an excellent obituary. Economics Nobel laureate Al Roth published a blog post about this, the comments on which I recommend reading as well. Finally, Kevin Bryan started a monumental series of four posts on his blog, explaining patiently and deeply the contributions Arrow made to economics. Here is the first of these posts.

UPDATE 2017-02-25: Here is a concise and heartfelt tribute by Lawrence Summers, a nephew of Arrow. Two personal reminiscences in this are so compelling that I am taking the liberty of quoting them here:

I remember like yesterday the moment when Kenneth won the Nobel Prize in 1972. Paul Samuelson—another Nobel economist and, as it happens, also my uncle—hosted a party in his honor, to which I, then a sophomore at MIT, was invited. It was a festive if slightly nerdy occasion.

As the night wore on, Paul and Kenneth were standing in a corner discussing various theorems in mathematical economics. People started leaving. Paul’s wife was looking impatient. Kenneth’s wife, my aunt Selma, put her coat on, buttoned it and started pacing at the door. Kenneth raised something known as the maximum principle and the writings of the Russian mathematician Pontryagin. Paul began a story about the great British mathematical economist and philosopher Frank Ramsey. My ride depended on this conversation ending, so I watched alertly without understanding a word.

But I did understand this: There were two people in the room who had won Nobel Prizes. They were the two people who, after everyone else was exhausted and heading home, talked on and on into the evening about the subject they loved. I learned that night about my uncles—about their passion for ideas and about the importance and excitement of what scholars do.


Kenneth knew more about everything than most know about anything, but he never flaunted his intelligence. It was another lesson for me when, many years ago, a paper was published correcting a famous analysis published by one of Kenneth’s teachers. At the time, it created a stir. I asked him what he thought. He said quietly that he had known of the error for decades, but such was his respect for his teacher that he did not publish his insight.

Same-sex marriage legalization linked to a decrease in teen suicide attempts

This article in The Guardian discusses in detail a paper just published in JAMA Pediatrics, co-authored by Julia Raifman, Ellen Moscoe, S. Bryn Austin, and Margaret McConnell.

The first link above leads to a nice explanation of the results of the paper, and the second leads to an extended abstract that readers who are adept in econometrics (and other statistics-savvy people) will want to read closely.

It seems to me that the marginal benefit of same-sex marriage legalization includes the saving of many lives. The marginal economic cost is negligible, if it is even positive, compared to such a marginal benefit. Individuals wishing to argue that the moral marginal cost outweighs the marginal benefit will find it very hard to convince me of their case.

UPDATE: I changed “suicides” to “suicide attempts” in the title of this post for higher accuracy.

The debate on how to teach econometrics

I am no econometrician and I don’t play one on TV. But I am keenly interested in how economists use econometrics and so when big debates on how it should be taught at university pop up, I am all ears. Apparently, lots of people care as much. Yesterday I tweeted about a blog post by Francis X. Diebold on the topic and my tweet became fay and away the most retweeted and liked of all my tweets. Since you might want to follow up and read that blog post, here is the tweet itself.


A portrait of Trumpism by Daniel Little

Philosopher of social science, Daniel Little, has written a blog post that places the political force that put Donald Trump in the White House in the context of right-wing movements in Europe that have, over several decades, pushed forward a populism based on racism, xenophobia, and an anti-democratic attitude towards the “corrupt elites” that pervade the previously mainstream political system. The post is well worth reading and contains many links of interest.

RIP Sir Tony Atkinson

Professor Sir Tony Atkinson died today. He was a giant in the field of the economics of inequality of income and wealth. His work will inform a large part of my new course on economic inequality, which starts in 16 days. Economics has been dealt a serious blow by his passing.