Radical Heroes

William Vickrey

William VickreyWilliam Spencer Vickrey (1914-1996) was honored with the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his work that inspired the field of “mechanism design.” An avid follower of Henry George, Vickrey saw mechanism design as a radical program to implement the “noble dreams of socialism” that George aspired to without a benevolent or omniscient social planner. Vickrey identified auctions as the archetype of ideal markets and showed how they could not only efficiently allocate private goods but even be used to determine the appropriate level of public goods. Playful, disorganized and reclusive, Vickrey was something of the Master Yoda of the economics profession, always inspiring great work but rarely receiving credit or attention. Frustrated by the narrow application of his work in mostly commercial settings, Vickrey sought to use the “bully pulpit” afforded him by his Nobel Prize to bring Georgist ideas to the broader public but died two days later. Our book is dedicated to his memory and attempts to carry on the legacy he could not.