Laureates Around the Nation
Kenneth Arrow, Stanford
I attended Townsend Harris High School, a special high school
(entrance by examination) run by The City College in 1933-6. Its
staff included several Ph.D.’s, mostly of whom were hoping
for a university position. They were perfect for me. I remember
a French teacher, Leo Cortines; he was a tyrant and perfectionist,
and I disliked him while in his class, but immediately understood
what I had learned from him afterwards. I also remember two
mathematics teachers, Irwin Rothman and Rene Albrecht-Carrie;
the latter eventually became a professor of history at Columbia.
In City College, I majored in mathematics, with side interests
in history, education, and economics (really statistics). There
was one great mathematics teacher, Bennington Gill; the rest
of the faculty were helpful without being outstanding.
In my graduate education at Columbia, I had several fine teachers,
especially Harold Hotelling, to whom I owe very much indeed
in many ways, and Abraham Wald.
I had two significant challenges. One was to stay the academic
course. My parents had undergone great economic insecurity,
and I wanted to avoid that. In the postwar period, I was tempted
to go into some private financially rewarding activity. Both
Hotelling and another economist, Tjalling Koopmans, prevented
this. The other was to write a dissertation that would satisfy
the high aspirations that I had for myself and that I felt
others had for me. After years of work with little to show,
a chance question to me led me in a few days to a brand-new
idea that satisfied me and others.
Winning the Nobel Prize obviously was very pleasant, and it
has given me some influence. But my own judgment of myself
and the judgment of those I respect is much more important.
My current work involves two main lines of research. One is
an attempt to bring meaningful models to the extent to which
economic behavior is influenced by social interactions; the
other is to improve the measurements of the economic impacts
of environmental failures.
On stem cell research: I am a layman in this area. It clearly
has great potential, and its study should be pursued. But I
do think that some respect must be paid to those whose religious
convictions lead to judgments on the value of potential human
life, even though I think these judgments are incorrect. The
distinction between therapeutic and genetic stem cells seems
just about right to me.
My reflections on the
100th anniversary of Einstein’s
seminal work: the idea that one person could write four basic
papers on very distinct branches of physics and have them published
in one year is so beyond the norm that one can only marvel.
It is a tribute to the possibilities of humanity. #