Arnott was chosen based on his experience as a member of the editorial team that compiled a previous collection of Vickrey's works, Public Economics: Selected Papers by William Vickrey . The collection contributed greatly to renewed interest in the Columbia economist's research that preceded his Nobel Prize for Economics in 1996. Vickrey died of a heart attack days after winning the award.
Columbia has asked Arnott to arrange Vickrey's papers in preparation for archiving by the university. The job will entail sorting through Vickrey's correspondence and papers, organizing unpublished research, and identifying unpublished papers that could merit posthumous publication.
Arnott, who befriended Vickrey while lecturing at Columbia in the 1970s, said the appointment represented more than a professional honor.
"As well as being a great admirer of his work, I was also very fond of him," said Arnott, currently a visiting Erskine Fellow at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. "For me, it has been a labor of love to do what I can to make his work better known within the academic economics community. My work 'pre-archiving' his papers is part of this labor."
The Canadian-born Vickrey was noted for an idiosyncratic style and sometimes unorthodox views, gaining headlines at the time of his Nobel Prize by terming federal budget-balancing efforts "insane" and urging greater deficit spending to achieve full employment. While Vickrey worked in seven major subject areas, including social choice theory, allocation mechanisms and tax policy, Arnott said he also wrote a large number of papers on diverse topics such as philanthropy, student aid and congressional decision-making.
"Vickrey's work is characterized by its variety, breadth of vision, originality, brilliance and idiosyncrasy," Arnott said. "He very much marched to his own drummer, working on what interested him and what he judged would have social value, paying little, if any, attention to his reputation, his material comfort, or academic fashion.
"He had the cast of mind of a theorist, but was committed to doing economics that would improve public policy," Arnott added.
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