Kenneth J. Arrow, one of the most brilliant economic minds of the 20th century and, at 51, the youngest economist ever to win a Nobel, died on Tuesday at his home in Palo Alto, Calif. He was 95.(…)
What Professor Arrow proved in his book “Social Choice and Individual Values” (1951) was far more sweeping. Not only would majority-voting rules prove unsatisfactory; so, too, would nonvoting systems of making social choices if, as was fundamental to his way of thinking, those choices were based on the preferences of the individuals making up the society. (Professor Arrow’s rules did not allow for dictators.)
The Arrow “impossibility theorem” ricocheted around the social sciences, noteworthy for its use of abstract mathematical concepts to generate a conclusion of sweeping applicability.
Professor Arrow’s research opened the academic field of social choice — a literature that ranges from a countries picking presidents to corporate boards picking business strategies. Having learned from him that no system works entirely well, academics turned to challenging follow-up questions, like whether some voting systems were better than others.(…)