≡ Menu

Bonus Quotation of the Day…

… is from page 261 of 1993 Nobel-laureate economist Douglass North’s October 25, 1994, lecture, “My Evolution as an Economist,” in Lives of the Laureates, William Breit & Roger W. Spencer, eds. (3rd ed., 1995) (link added; pictured here is North):

At a deeper level of analysis, [Kenneth] Arrow’s disturbing impossibility theorem had implications for the entire process for aggregating choices. In effect, one cannot achieve collectively rational choices by aggregating the individual choices of people with diverse values and preferences.

DBx: Yes. Yet I disagree with North’s description of Arrow’s finding as “disturbing.”

Arrow’s finding is certainly unexpected and unwelcome by – and, hence, disturbing to – those who naively believe that groups of individuals are akin to an actual flesh-and-blood individual – that is, by those who wish to anthropomorphize groups of individuals. But for those of us who never fell for the validity of such anthropomorphization, Arrow’s finding is no more disturbing than is the realization that flapping our arms doesn’t cause us humans to fly.

The impossibility of deriving an ordering of group preferences from the preferences of the individuals who comprise the group – an ordering of group preferences that is akin to an ordering of an individual’s preferences – is simply a reality that makes no more sense to bemoan than it makes sense to bemoan the reality that our arms aren’t wings.