Ray’s encounter with Arrow

How on earth did I miss this adorable little recall of Debraj Ray meeting Kenneth Arrow, years back. Ray’s was my first ever econ text. Forever influenced me!

I walked into his office. It was small and cluttered, full of books that went up high. It had a vertical rather than horizontal feel. Arrow himself gave the opposite impression. He was shorter than I had expected, strong, rooted to the ground. The man seemed to be in constant motion. He was both brisk and welcoming. He was wearing brightly colored suspenders, and there was an immense bicycle helmet on his desk. (I did not then realize that these, along with the perennially flipped pencil at seminars, would be an intrinsic part of my later memory of him.) I began talking about my work. It was a bit of an out-of-body experience; I could see myself talking to him. Arrow listened very closely. There was an intensity of gaze that never wavered, except when he would start speculating, during which he would look up at the ceiling and back to me. He asked questions non-stop. He talked very fast, the words tripping over one another, the tone uneven, the sentences clearly struggling to keep up with the flow of thoughts. He didn’t exactly anticipate my results. But after 15 minutes, I had a second eerie sensation: that I was talking to someone who  had thought about my problem for a very long time. This was a weird feeling that I came to associate with Arrow over the next few years.

When we finished our meeting, I summoned up the courage to quote Joan Robinson on Bagicha Minhas and the CES production function: “It is a sad comment on the state of our education that a talented young man be brought from India to be bamboozled like this.” He roared with laughter and said, you can put that up on your office door if you come here. I did.

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