Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen (1906-1994)
One of the most remarkable and profound thinkers in modern economics - and one
of the few whose reputation and influence, despite relative neglect over his
lifetime, has only increased over time and promises to keep on increasing.
Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen was trained in mathematical statistics at Bucharest
and the Sorbonne - receiving his Ph.D at 24. In the 1930s, he spent three years
at Harvard, where he was apprenticed in economics by Joseph Schumpeter - and
immediately put his mark on this new field with a few outstanding papers on
producer and consumer theory (1935, 1936) - which included a solution of the
"integrability problem" as well as killing the revealed preference-derivation of
utility ("where is indifference?", he asked). He also set forth propositions on
stochastic choice and lexicographic preferences.
After returning to Bucharest, Georgescu-Roegen took on official duties for the
Romanian government, including a position in the post-war negotiations with the
Soviet Union. In 1948, Georgescu-Roegen fled Communist-controlled Romania,
stowing himself and his wife away in barrels aboard an Istanbul-bound freighter.
Georgescu-Roegen made his way back to the United States, finally settling at
Vanderbilt University - finding the time, in the meanwhile, to contribute three
seminal chapters to the celebrated Koopmans-edited 1951 Cowles monograph on
linear programming and general equilibrium theory. His ingenious contribution to
the Marxian theory of crisis (1960) is also well-known.
In 1966, Georgescu-Roegen bailed out of the Neo-Walrasian ship with a salvo of
critical torpedoes - contained in the insightful and erudite introduction to his
Analytical Economics (1966). There, he developed his initial ideas on a new
biological or evolutionary approach to economic theory.
His ideas were further developed and consolidated in his magnum opus, The
Entropy Law and the Economic Process (1971). Georgescu-Roegen's claims, among
others, were that an economy faces limits to growth, for which he invoked the
Second Law of Thermodynamics ("useful energy gets dissipated"). Although
generally ignored by mainstream economics, he was hailed by the fledlging
environmental movement and, until the end of his life, never ceased to speak out
on his ideas for a new approach to economic theory. Today, his work is gaining
influence, and his insights are being grafted into the new field of evolutionary