Second Annual Arrow Lecture

December 12, 2009 · 6:30 – 8:00PM

Columbia University, Altschul Auditorium, School of International and Public Affairs

  • Eric Maskin, Albert O. Hirschman Professor of Social Science, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton
  • Amartya Sen, Thomas W. Lamont University Professor and Professor of Economics and Philosophy, Harvard University
  • Kenneth Arrow, Professor Emeritus of Economics, Stanford University
  • Joseph Stiglitz, University Professor and Co-Chair Committee on Global Thought, Columbia University

Nobel Prize-winnings economists revisit Kenneth Arrow’s groundbreaking work on voting habits and outcomes.

Kenneth Arrow’s path-breaking “impossibility theorem” was a watershed in the history of welfare economics, voting theory, and collective choice, demonstrating that there is no voting rule that satisfies the four desirable axioms of decisiveness, consensus, non-dictatorship, and independence. In this lecture, Amartya Sen and Eric Maskin explore the implications of Arrow’s theorem. Sen considers its ongoing utility, exploring the theorem’s value and limitations in relation to recent research on social reasoning, while Maskin discusses how to design a voting rule that gets us closer to the ideal—given that achieving the ideal is impossible. Kenneth J. Arrow and Joseph Stiglitz serve as discussants.

Watch the video here: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Eric Maskin is the former Albert O. Hirschman Professor of Economics (2000-2012), Eric Maskin is probably best known for his work on the theory of mechanism design for which he shared the 2007 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics. He has made contributions to many other areas of economics as well, including the theory of income inequality, the study of intellectual property rights, and political economy.

Amartya Sen is Thomas W. Lamont University Professor, and Professor of Economics and Philosophy, at Harvard University and was until 2004 the Master of Trinity College, Cambridge. He is also Senior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows. Earlier on he was Professor of Economics at Jadavpur University Calcutta, the Delhi School of Economics, and the London School of Economics, and Drummond Professor of Political Economy at Oxford University.

Kenneth J. Arrow is Professor of Economics and of Operations Research, Emeritus at Stanford University. He earned his MA and PhD from Columbia University, where his dissertation explored his famous "impossibility theorem" and became the foundation for his seminal book, Social Choice and Individual Values. He was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences with John Hicks in 1972 for their “pioneering contributions to general economic equilibrium theory and welfare theory.” Several of Arrow's students, including Joseph E. Stiglitz, have gone on to win the Nobel Prize. Arrow has also made major contributions to endogenous growth theory and information economics, and is considered one of the most influential practicing economists.

Joseph E. Stiglitz is University Professor, Co-chair of the Committee on Global Thought, and founder and Co-president of the Initiative for Policy Dialogue, at Columbia University. Stiglitz was a member of the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) from 1993-95, during the Clinton administration, and served as CEA chairman from 1995-97. He then became Chief Economist and Senior Vice-President of the World Bank from 1997-2000. In 2001, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics for his analyses of markets with asymmetric information, and he was also a lead author of the 1995 Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

About the Annual Arrow Lecture

Columbia University’s annual Arrow Lecture honors economist Kenneth J. Arrow by featuring a scholar whose work addresses an aspect of his groundbreaking contributions to the field over the last 60 years. Arrow Lecturers model the “scholarly depth, wide-ranging interests, personal and intellectual generosity and openness, and consistent refusal to engage in ideological quibbling,” that Arrow is famous for.

The Arrow Lecturer is selected by a committee of Professors Patrick Bolton, Joseph E. Stiglitz, David Weinstein, Michael Woodford, and Myles Thompson of Columbia University Press. The Arrow Committee seeks to identify the boldest, most creative thinkers who will steer the discipline of economics into a future direction.

This series has been a collaboration between the Committee on Global Thought and the Program for Economic Research since 2008.

Read more about the Arrow Lecture and Publication Series