Category Archives: Economists’ Papers Archive

The Last Chapters of Kenneth Arrow’s Work

Post contributed by Jonathan Cogliano, Assistant Professor for the Department of Economics at Dickinson College. 

A few of Kenneth Arrow’s medals, including the John von Neumann Theory Prize, the National Medal of Science, and the John Bates Clark Medal.

The Economists’ Papers Archive features collections from some of most influential economists of the post-war era, and among this impressive group are the recently re-processed papers of Kenneth J. Arrow (look for the new finding guide soon!). Arrow’s contributions to the field of economics are wide-ranging, notable among them are: his contributions to social choice theory—with the eponymous Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem—and welfare economics; his work with Gérard Debreu on the development of general equilibrium theory; the idea of learning-by-doing as a driver of economic growth and innovation; and the problems posed by asymmetries in information available to people when making economic decisions. Over his lifetime he received numerous awards for his work, including the John Bates Clark Medal (at the time, awarded biennially by the American Economic Association to the economist under the age of 40 who has made “the most significant contribution to economic thought and knowledge”), the John von Neumann Theory Prize in operations research, the National Medal of Science, and the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel (shared with John R. Hicks), as well as numerous others and honorary degrees. Arrow’s, perhaps, lesser known contributions outside of economic theory include work on the abatement of acid rain with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), efforts to build a program to provide affordable malaria medications with the Institute of Medicine (IOM), and political advocacy on behalf of persecuted scholars under repressive regimes throughout the world, among many others.

Arrow passed away in February, 2017 and this meant that new additions were made to his collection at the Economists’ Papers Archive. With a substantial amount of his papers already at the Rubenstein Library, the arrival of new materials required careful incorporation into the existing collection and management of a large quantity of physical materials (over 90 boxes in total!). This large and complicated re-processing project took several months and entailed  significant  re-organization, including the incorporation of his numerous prizes and the last chapters of his life; Arrow kept working until shortly before his death. How does one go about keeping track of such a large project with a number of boxes stored offsite at any one time? Well, a couple of Excel spreadsheets and a few lines of code can help to sort things out (an example is pictured below).

An example of how computer code helped sort and keep track of Arrow’s large collection during re-processing.

 

Using computing power to help overcome the challenges of sorting and tracking boxes in an archival collection may seem unrelated to the work of Kenneth Arrow, but his contributions to information economics and the economics of complex systems (via the Santa Fe Institute) helped pave the way for a burgeoning body of work applying computational modeling to economics. (They have, at least, been influential for the computational work done by the economist writing this post.)

The impact of Arrow’s work is too expansive to fully capture here, but having his papers available again in the Economists’ Papers Archive will prove an invaluable resource for those interested in one of the most influential economists of the post-war era.

Young Researcher Prefers Game Theory to Video Games

Post contributed by Elizabeth Dunn, Research Services Librarian

The Rubenstein Library’s Economists’ Papers Archive attracts numerous scholars from around the globe. This summer, it has also attracted one very special scholar: rising eighth grader Benjamin Knight. Nearly every day, he has been a quiet presence in our reading room, working his way diligently through boxes of our Oskar Morgenstern Papers.

Although we often welcome even very small children whose families make a pilgrimage to see our first edition Book of Mormon, Benjamin is the youngest serious researcher anyone can remember. Those of us on the Research Services staff found his interest in this important Austrian American economist intriguing. He was kind enough to take time out of his work to grant me an interview.

Photo of Benjamin Knight working with a box from the Oscar Morgenstern papers in the Rubenstein Library reading room.
Benjamin Knight in the Rubenstein Library reading room.
Photo by Elizabeth Dunn.

Asked how he became interested in Morgenstern, Benjamin replied that he had read an article about Von Neumann and Morgenstern. (The two economists overlapped at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton from 1938 until 1954. Morgenstern, an economist trained at the University of Vienna and influenced by Carl Menger, was grappling with the challenges of economic prediction. He knew John Von Neumann’s 1928 paper on the theory of games and the two collaborated on their influential 1944 book, Theory of Games and Economic Behavior.1) Benjamin was pleased to discover that we hold the Morgenstern Papers, and is using them to tease out the sources of Morgenstern’s key ideas: the University of Vienna or Princeton. More generally, he is interested in the application of game theory to the analysis of social interactions and political decision-making. Some of the Morgenstern documents are hand-written in German. Asked whether those were challenging, Benjamin replied that the handwriting is a little problematic, but translating the German, which he has never studied, is more difficult.

Benjamin has many other interests besides game theory. He represented Brazil (and, with partner Claire Thananopavarn, won Best Delegation) in the Eighth Annual Chapel Hill-Carrboro Middle School Model United Nations Conference in April. He was part of the Smith team at this year’s Middle School National Academic Quiz Championship Tournament and placed among the top twenty-five competitors in the 2017 Wake Technical Community College Regional State Math Contest. When not competing, Benjamin enjoys reading fiction, history, and politics.

Benjamin comes by his interest in social and political analysis naturally. His mother, cultural anthropologist Margaret “Lou” Brown, is Senior Research Scholar and Director of Programs at Duke University’s Forum for Scholars and Publics. His father Jack Knight is Frederic Cleaveland Professor of Law and Political Science and holds a joint appointment in Duke’s School of Law and Trinity College of Arts and Sciences. Benjamin has not yet decided on a particular career path, but all of us in the Rubenstein are happy that he found us and look forward to following his continued successes.

Notes:

  1. New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

In Memoriam – Professor Kenneth Arrow

Post contributed by Sara Seten Berghausen, Associate Curator of Collections

1972 telegram from Stockholm notifying Arrow that he’d been awarded the Nobel Prize.

Kenneth J. Arrow, Nobel-winning economist and professor emeritus at Stanford University, passed away last week at the age of 95. Arrow’s work had an impact not only in economics, but was influential in fields across the social sciences.

His extensive research, teaching and activism are documented in the Economists’ Papers Archive in Rubenstein Library, where Arrow’s professional papers are preserved and made available to researchers. His papers are some of the Archive’s most heavily used, and Arrow was always very responsive to researchers’ questions and supportive of their work.

 

 

An assignment completed by Arrow in fall 1939 in his Philosophy of Mathematics course

 

The Arrow papers document his work from his years as an undergraduate at City College of New York in late 1930s, through his graduate work at Columbia and the publication of his landmark book Social Choice and Individual Values in 1951, and includes research notes and extensive correspondence with other scholars from his later work in equilibrium theory, welfare theory, and as an advocate for addressing the hazards of global warming.