Kenneth Arrow, RIP

Kenneth Arrow just passed away at age 95. He founded modern health economics, social choice theory, and so much beside. His doctoral dissertation proved the famous Arrow Impossibility theorem. His career didn’t let up until virtually his dying day.

I won’t try to summarize Arrow’s Nobel-Prize-winning career. Fortunately, the Journal of Health Politics, Policy, and Law published a 2001 special issue that considered his contributions to health policy. It is a just great, great read by some of the best in the business–Mark Peterson, Uwe Reinhardt, Mark Pauly, Mike Chernew, Frank Sloan, and many others–with a terrific response these essays by Arrow himself. Check it out. It is a lovely read.

Professor Arrow was an active participant in Stanford seminars well into his tenth decade. He combined the highest mathematical virtuosity with a passion for social justice and a real curiosity about societies and institutions. I never had too many dealings with him. We did occasionally cross paths on political matters related to health reform. I found this 2016 email especially charming given the source. The man contributed more after age 80 than I’m likely to do over my entire career.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect,, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

4 thoughts on “Kenneth Arrow, RIP”

  1. Seconded.
    Kenneth Arrow was invited to China along with Joseph Stiglitz to consult on market reforms : two economists with deep understanding of the failings as well as the merits of capitalist competition. Why not the best, indeed.

  2. One of the remarkable things about him is that when his results came out differently than his politics led him to hope, he believed his results and concluded his hopes and wishes must have been ill-placed. I know precious few people with such integrity.

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