[OPE-L:3404] Re: Vickrey's death

Duncan K. Fole (dkf2@columbia.edu)
Mon, 14 Oct 1996 08:32:03 -0700 (PDT)

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This was a very dramatic and turbulent week for Columbia.

Vickrey was 82, but in the habit of driving himself to conferences in order
to save the organizers money. He apparently had driven himself to an NBER
conference on Cape Cod (about 6 hours one way from New York) the weekend
before the Nobel announcement, and when he died was heading up to Cambridge
(leaving his house in Hastings about 11 PM). His wife and others tried to
dissuade him from this rather frenetic and stressful activity, but he would
brook no restrictions.

Vickrey was an unusual figure among economists. He was a Quaker and
pacifist (served as a conscientious objector during WWII, for example.) His
work was motivated by a hatred of waste. A typical project was his scheme
to re-price New York subways by true marginal congestion cost. Despite the
impeccable neoclassical logic of this kind of work, it went nowhere with
politicians in Vickrey's lifetime. (I gather some European cities are
gingerly considering the possibility of peak load road pricing, now, so
maybe with the passage of time these concepts will reach fruition.) He
remained a resolute Keynesian despite the changing of economic fashions. I
recall him on several occasions characterizing unemployment as analogous to
vandalism and inflation as analogous to embezzlement. He tried to use his
Presidency of the AEA to lobby hard for more expansionary demand policies,
but again without much resonance.

There is some reason to believe that the Nobel excitement may have
predisposed Vickrey to his fatal heart attack (though it's always
impossible to know these things for sure, and he had a long history of
heart problems already.) Everyone at Columbia was shocked and many people
greatly saddened by his death. Some people thought this was a great way to
go, and one prominent economist speculated on which of his colleagues and
under what life circumstances would trade all but two days of life for the
Nobel Prize in Economics. I found this rather bizarre myself.


>Listmembers probably heard about the Nobel awards in economics the other
>day ...
>From: MScoleman@aol.com
>From: jfwsb@acad1.alaska.edu (William S. Brown (907) 465-6423/789-2448)
>One of my students who works for a radio station called to
>tell me the details of Vickrey's death. Here is the AP flash:
>Nobel Death URGENT, take 3: 10-11 7:27 a
>"Columbia says Vickrey was found unconscious and slumped
>over the wheel of his car last night. He'd been traveling to an
>academic conference when he was found, on a highway about
>30 miles north of New Yrk City. He was 82."

Duncan K. Foley
Department of Economics
Barnard College
New York, NY 10027
fax: (212)-854-8947
e-mail: dkf2@columbia.edu