Happy Birthday, Tibor Scitovsky

Early in my study of economics in the 1990s, I came across Tibor Scitovsky’s 1976 book “The Joyless Economy: an inquiry into human satisfaction and consumer dissatisfaction.” Reading it, I realized that I was in the presence of a kindred spirit. I read that book with delight and an increasing understanding of what economics was all about. It was about humans and how they attempt to satisfy their innate drives, most of which derive from their biology and their evolutionary history as primates. Though I lived only a few miles from him (he lived in Stanford), I did not know it then and therefore never attempted to meet him. I later got to know that I also shared my birthday with him. Here’s how.

While at UC Berkeley in the 1990s, I once attended a guest lecture by Amartya Sen. At the end of the lecture, since he was a fellow Bengali, I went up and introduced myself. We spoke very briefly but I did mention to him that we shared our birthday — Nov 3rd. The next time I saw Prof Sen was also at a lecture at UC Berkeley a couple of years later. I recall that this time the topic was about the economics of populations, and I was distinctly dissatisfied with his analysis. In any case, I did go up to say hello to him after the talk.

I went up to him and said, “Hello, Prof Sen, my name is Atanu.” I was quite surprised and gratified that he immediately recalled our previous meeting. He said entirely unprompted, and I quote verbatim, “Atanu, I am happy to report that we are in good company. I found out recently that we share our birthday with Tibor Scitovsky.”

As many of the readers of this blog know, I am opposed to the leftist ideology that Prof Sen subscribes to. I am a classical liberal in the tradition of Hayek and Buchanan. Yet, even though I profoundly disagree with Prof Sen on the fundamental philosophical questions — and admit that he is far superior to me in raw intelligence and I can never ever attain the level of his scholarship — I recall with pleasure knowing from him that I share my birthday with Prof Scitovsky (1910 – 2002).

Happy Birthday to you, Profs Scitovsky and Sen.

7 thoughts on “Happy Birthday, Tibor Scitovsky

  1. What a nice anecdote!

    I’d have never thought that you would walk up to him the second time, after you knew that you diverged so fundamentally with his views. And how impressive it is that he remembered you and came back impressively.

    Shows your respect for scholarship and shows his humility.


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