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Arrow was born on 23 August 1921, in New York City. Arrow's mother, Lilian (Greenberg), was from Ia?i, Romania, and his father, Harry Arrow, was from nearby Podu Iloaiei. The Arrow family were RomanianJews. His family was very supportive of his education. Growing up during the Great Depression, he embraced socialism in his youth. He would later move away from socialism, but his views retained a left-leaning philosophy.
If we exclude the possibility of interpersonal comparisons of utility, then the only methods of passing from individual tastes to social preferences which will be satisfactory and which will be defined for a wide range of sets of individual orderings are either imposed or dictatorial.
In what he named the General Impossibility Theorem, he theorized that, unless we accept to compare the levels of utility reached by different inividuals, it is impossible to formulate a social preference ordering that satisfies all of the following conditions:
Nondictatorship: The preferences of an individual should not become the group ranking without considering the preferences of others.
Individual Sovereignty: each individual should be able to order the choices in any way and indicate ties
Unanimity: If every individual prefers one choice to another, then the group ranking should do the same
Freedom From Irrelevant Alternatives: If a choice is removed, then the others' order should not change
Uniqueness of Group Rank: The method should yield the same result whenever applied to a set of preferences. The group ranking should be transitive.
In 1974, The American Economic Association published the paper written by Kenneth Arrow, General Economic Equilibrium: Purpose, Analytic Techniques, Collective Choice, where he states:
From the time of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations in 1776, one recurrent theme of economic analysis has been the remarkable degree of coherence among the vast numbers of individual and seemingly separate decisions about the buying and selling of commodities. In everyday, normal experience, there is something of a balance between the amounts of goods and services that some individuals want to supply and the amounts that other, different individuals want to sell. Would-be buyers ordinarily count correctly on being able to carry out their intentions, and would-be sellers do not ordinarily find themselves producing great amounts of goods that they cannot sell. This experience of balance is indeed so widespread that it raises no intellectual disquiet among laymen; they take it so much for granted that they are not disposed to understand the mechanism by which it occurs.
Arrow was one of the precursors of endogenous growth theory, which seeks to explain the source of technical change, which is a key driver of economic growth. Until this theory came to prominence, technical change was assumed to occur exogenously - that is, it was assumed to occur outside economic activities, and was outside (exogenous) to common economic models. At the same time there was no economic explanation for why it occurred. Endogenous-growth theory provided standard economic reasons for why firms innovate, leading economists to think of innovation and technical change as determined by economic actors, that is endogenously to economic activities, and thus belong inside the model. Endogenous growth theory started with Paul Romer's 1986 paper, borrowing from Arrow's 1962 "learning-by-doing" model which introduced a mechanism to eliminate diminishing returns in aggregate output. A literature on this theory has developed subsequently to Arrow's work.
In other pioneering research, Arrow investigated the problems caused by asymmetric information in markets. In many transactions, one party (usually the seller) has more information about the product being sold than the other party. Asymmetric information creates incentives for the party with more information to cheat the party with less information; as a result, a number of market structures have developed, including warranties and third party authentication, which enable markets with asymmetric information to function. Arrow analysed this issue for medical care (a 1963 paper entitled "Uncertainty and the Welfare Economics of Medical Care", in the American Economic Review); later researchers investigated many other markets, particularly second-hand assets, online auctions and insurance.
Arrow was a brother to the economist Anita Summers, uncle to economist and former Treasury Secretary and Harvard President Larry Summers, and brother-in-law of the late economists Robert Summers and Paul Samuelson. In 1947, he married Selma Schweitzer, graduate in economics at the University of Chicago and psychotherapist, who died in 2015; they had two children: David Michael (b. 1962), an actor, and Andrew Seth (b. 1965), an actor/singer.
Arrow was well known for being a polymath, possessing prodigious knowledge of subjects far removed from economics. On one occasion (recounted by Eric Maskin), in an attempt to artificially test Arrow's knowledge, the junior faculty agreed to closely study the breeding habits of gray whales - a suitably obscure topic - and discuss it in his presence. To their surprise, Arrow already was familiar with the work they had studied and, in addition, thought it had been refuted by other research.
and as: Arrow, Kenneth J.; Hurwicz, Leonid (1977), "Appendix: An optimality criterion for decision-making under ignorance", in Arrow, Kenneth J.; Hurwicz, Leonid (eds.), Studies in resource allocation processes, Cambridge New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 461-72, ISBN9780521215220.
Arrow, Kenneth J. (1960), "Price-quantity adjustments in multiple markets with rising demands", in Arrow, Kenneth J.; Karlin, Samuel; Suppes, Patrick (eds.), Mathematical models in the social sciences, 1959: Proceedings of the first Stanford symposium, Stanford mathematical studies in the social sciences, IV, Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, pp. 3-15, ISBN9780804700214.
Reprinted as: Arrow, Kenneth J. (1983b), "The organization of economic activity: issues pertinent to the choice of market versus non-market allocations", in Arrow, Kenneth J. (ed.), Collected papers of Kenneth J. Arrow, volume 2: general equilibrium, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press, pp. 133-55, ISBN9780674137615.
Reprinted as: Arrow, Kenneth J. (1983a), "Extended sympathy and the possibility of social choice", in Arrow, Kenneth J. (ed.), Collected papers of Kenneth J. Arrow, volume 1: social Choice and justice, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press, ISBN9780674137608.
Arrow, Kenneth J. (1983a). Collected papers of Kenneth J. Arrow, volume 1: social Choice and justice. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press. ISBN9780674137608.
Arrow, Kenneth J. (1983b). Collected papers of Kenneth J. Arrow, volume 2: general equilibrium. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press. ISBN9780674137615.
Arrow, Kenneth J. (1984a). Collected papers of Kenneth J. Arrow, volume 3: individual choice under certainty and uncertainty. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press. ISBN9780674137622.
Arrow, Kenneth J. (1984b). Collected papers of Kenneth J. Arrow, volume 4: the economics of information. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press. ISBN9780674137639.
Arrow, Kenneth J. (1985a). Collected papers of Kenneth J. Arrow, volume 5: production and capital. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press. ISBN9780674137776.
Arrow, Kenneth J. (1985b). Collected papers of Kenneth J. Arrow, volume 6: applied economics. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press. ISBN9780674137783.
Arrow, Kenneth J. (1987), "Rationality of self and others in an economic system", in Hogarth, Robin M.; Reder, Melvin W. (eds.), Rational choice: the contrast between economics and psychology, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, pp. 201-16, ISBN9780226348575.
Arrow, Kenneth J.; Anderson, Philip W.; Pines, David, eds. (1988). The economy as an evolving complex system: the proceedings of the Evolutionary Paths of the Global Economy Workshop, held September, 1987 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Redwood City, California: Addison-Wesley Pub. Co. ISBN9780201156850. Book details.
Arrow, Kenneth J.; Anderson, Philip W.; Pines, David (1988). The economy as an evolving complex system: the proceedings of the evolutionary paths of the global economy workshop, held September, 1987 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Redwood City, California: Addison-Wesley Pub. Co. ISBN9780201156850.
^Heller, Walter P.; Starr, Ross M.; Starrett, David A., eds. (1986). "Kenneth J. Arrow". Social Choice and Public Decision Making: Essays in Honor of Kenneth J. Arrow, Volume I. Cambridge University Press. p. xiv. ISBN0-521-30454-7.