János Kornai, Széchenyi Prize winner economist, academic, professor emeritus of Harvard University and Corvinus University of Budapest died on Monday at the age of 94. One of the best known Hungarian economists, he was President of the Hungarian Economic Association from 2002 to 2005 and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the HEA on his 80th birthday. His memory will be with us forever.
János Kornai was born in 1928 in Budapest. A graduate of the University of Budapest, he was economics editor of Szabad Nép from 1947 and worked for the Institute of Economics of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (HAS) from 1955. He received a doctorate in economics in 1966, and became a correspondent member (1976), then a full member (1982) of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. He was visiting professor at numerous foreign universities including the University of Sussex (1966), Stanford University (1968 and 1973), Yale University (1970), Princeton University (1972 and 1983), Stockholm University (1976-1977) and Harvard University (1984-1985). From 1972 to 1977 he was Vice Chairman of the United Nations Committee for Development Planning. He worked as head of department at the HAS Institute of Economics, and he was professor of Collegium Budapest, the Budapest University of Economics, and then Harvard University from 1986. He was a member of the HAS Committee of Economic Sciences, and the Editorial Board of Közgazdasági Szemle (Economic Review). János Kornai was elected a foreign member of the American Academy of Sciences and Arts, the British Academy, the Royal Swedish Academy, the Finnish Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Sciences, and was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Turin.
His work primarily focused on the mathematical methods of economic planning, the application of mathematics and computer science in economics, and the theory of economic mechanisms. His works in economics have been translated into ten languages, including Anti-Equilibrium available in Japanese as well. His most famous book, the Economics of Shortage was published in 1980. János Kornai’s other major works include Overcentralization in Economic Administration; Mathematical Programming of Investments; Mathematical Planning of Structural Decisions; Anti-Equilibrium; Rush versus Harmonic Growth; Growth, Shortage and Efficiency; Contradictions and Dilemmas; The Bureaucratic Redistribution of Firms’ Profits; Old and New Contradictions and Dilemmas; A Passionate Pamphlet in the Cause of Economic Transition; The Socialist System: The Political Economy of Communism.
His autobiography was published in 2005, followed by a Japanese and English language version in 2007. He received the Hungarian State Prize and the Alexander von Humboldt Prize of Germany in 1983. His additional prizes and awards include the Széchenyi Prize received in 1994, the French Legion of Honour received in 1997, and he was made an honorary doctor of the Stockholm School of Economics (2001), the Varna University of Economics (2003) and the Pan-European University of Bratislava (2013). János Kornai received the Prima Primissima Prize in 2005 and the Middle Cross Order of Merit of the Hungarian Republic with a Star (civilian division) in 2007. He was recipient of the Academic Award in 2007 and the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Hungarian Economic Association in 2008 marking his 80th birthday. He was given the ‘Twenty Year Old Republic’ Award of the Hungarian Government in 2009, and the Grand Cross Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary (civilian division) in 2010 for his lifetime work and world-renowned achievements in researching the theory and functioning of economic systems. In 2018 the Corvinus University of Budapest organised a full-day scientific conference to mark his 90th birthday. János Kornai was elected an honorary member of the Széchenyi Academy of Literature and Art in 2018. His funeral will be arranged at a later date. (Photograph: MTI/Zoltán Gergely Kelemen)