Sixty five years ago, in Social Choice and Individual Values (which was based on his PhD thesis) Ken Arrow issued a signal challenge to those interested in amalgamating individual preferences into social choices. He demonstrated that any form of voting that meets a set of reasonable constraints is self-contradictory and fails to yield a stable outcome. This work transformed entire disciplines such as social choice theory and welfare economics and has given rise to a long and fruitful literature probing the implications of its finding. Political philosophers, economists and others have found in Arrow’s results a range of disturbing implications for democratic theory. Arrow was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1972.
This colloquium in April 2016 marked the anniversary of the publication of this work and brought two expert panelists to comment on Arrow’s findings. Nobel laureate and Harvard Professor Amartya Sen, and NYU Law Professor John Ferejohn offered remarks on the significance of Arrow’s findings. After their comments, Arrow joined them for a discussion, moderated by Prof. Debra Satz.