Janos Kornai

Economist Janos Kornai dies

Economist Janos Kornai, holder of the Szechenyi Prize and the French Legion of Honour, member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, professor emeritus at Harvard and Budapest's Corvinus universities, died at age 94, his family told MTI late on Monday.
20. October 2021 6:54

Janos Kornai was a professor of economics noted primarily for his criticism of the command economies of Eastern European communist states.

Born in Budapest in 1928, Kornai worked as an economic journalist from 1947 and as a member of the scientific academy’s Economy Institute from 1955. In 1976 he became the academy’s correspondent, and was elected a regular member in 1982.

From 1966 on, he lectured at several prestigious universities abroad, including Stanford, Yale, Princeton, and Harvard. From 1967 until 1992 he was a research professor at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Economics.

He was a member of the Board of the National Bank of Hungary (central bank) until 2001, and authored many economics-related books and papers.

His research included areas such as mathematical methods in planning, applying mathemathics and information technology in the economy, and economic mechanisms.

In the late 1950s, Kornai was among the economists who initiated use of mathematical methods in economic planning for command economies. He focused on the theory of two-level planning along with economist and mathematician Tamas Liptak, who eventually became a close friend, and was in charge of the first large-scale economy-wide multi-level planning project. Experiencing the limits of planning, he began exploring planning theory. Anti-Equilibrium, written in 1971, was a controversial volume criticising the theory of general equilibrium, and suggesting new approaches to studying countries in practice and price and non-price signals.

This research triggered his interest in the essential nature of socialist systems, including chronic shortages, forced growth, bureaucratization and conflicts between socialist principles and economic efficiency. The outcome was a monograph, Economics of Shortage, written in 1980 and perhaps his most influential work, as well as a number of articles. This volume was extensively translated into numerous languages including Chinese. It demonstrated that chronic shortages were not the outcome of planning errors but were systemic consequences of “classical” communism.

Kornai began analysing the post-communist transition and formulating policy recommendations, publishing a volume called “The Road to a Free Economy” in 1989, since translated into several foreign languages including English. This was a pioneering study in liberalisation, stabilisation and privatisation.

His autobiography entitled “By Force of Thought” was published in Hungary in 2005, followed by publications in Japanese and English. In this work Kornai discusses his life, work and the social and political environment during WWII, the 1956 revolution and its aftermath.

Kornai was a Member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the European Academy, a Foreign Member of the American, British, Swedish, Finnish and Russian Academies, and an Honorary Member of the American Economic Association. He was awarded Hungary’s State Prize and Szechenyi Prize, Germany’s Humboldt Prize, and the Seidman Award in the USA. He was granted the French Legion of Honour, Officer’s Grade, and was awarded the Commander’s Cross of the Republic of Hungary.

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