László Lovász welcome speech

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Honored Professor, dear János,
distinguished Guests, 

Ladies and Gentlemen!

Mathematicians and economists differ in many ways in the way we do our research, but they definitely share one thing: they all respect numbers. Although economics is a social science, numbers and numerical data constitute the starting point for an economist. These raw data, however, make it possible for the systematically thinking social scientist to create a comprehensive view of the actual state of society.

Allow me to quote from the celebrated man himself, János Kornai:

“Social scientists are scientists because they struggle, even with their inner selves, to stay objective and accept facts, which may not please them in the slightest. And should they undertake the task to speak about the events of the future, they do not speak about what they wish would happen, but about things that are expected to happen.”

The works of János Kornai are a testament to this quotation. It is true about his writing regarding the economic leadership being too centralized which he wrote more than six decades ago, and it is just as true about his latest book, “Látlelet”, published a few months ago.

Professor Kornai is a critical person. Every time he criticizes something, he does it “by force of thought”: criticism underpinned by expert analysis is his characteristic. He analyzes, makes comparisons, and highlights connections. He argues. He makes us think.

His scientific performance is astonishing. It is a rare gift for a social scientist if one or two of their works are regarded as model studies for his contemporaries. János Kornai boasts several such influential studies, out of which “A hiány” [Economics of Shortage] is outstanding. He was right when he wrote that owing to shortage “the socialist system was looked upon in a different way”.

One of his Russian acclaimers stated that Kornai could already explain the real working mechanisms of the socialist economy, when “the researchers of Soviet political economy were just mimicking scientific work in the form of enchanted incantations.”

János Kornai is best known as a researcher, but as all good researchers do, he also sought to spread his acquired knowledge. He used to teach at the most prestigious of universities. The list includes Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Yale, the London School of Economics, just to name a few institutions abroad where he lectured.

He is the member of many high-ranking scientific organizations, including the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. A collection of international awards and the most prestigious scientific awards in Hungary demonstrate that his legacy is uniformly respected in his home country, Europe and oversees as well.

He generally writes about socioeconomic relations and systems with a strong theoretical background. But he is not a scientist dedicated solely to theories: he also addresses specific problems. As a researcher, he always paid special attention to his native country: “Hungary is the country in the focus of my attention. I know more of her history than that of other countries. Ever since I remember, I was always concerned about what is happening in this country” he wrote in his autobiography, titled “By Force of Thought”, which was published in several languages, including Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese.

The last chapter of “By Force of Thought” is a question. This is characteristic of the social scientist, who is driven by the same curiosity at the age of 90 as at the beginning of his career. He watches, reads, works and writes to this day. The question that concludes his autobiography is this: “What are you working on?” I am sure that now, some months after the publishing of his collection of studies on the present state of Hungary, most of his friends and colleagues are already asking him: “So János, what are you working on?”

Knowing him, I am sure the question is merited as he is definitely working on something.

A few years ago, he noticed that I had written a book on “Matching Theory”, and invited me to discuss its possible connections with a similarly called subject in economics. It was a very inspiring chat. I very much regret that due to my administrative duties, I could not devote sufficient time to follow up on the ideas that I learned from him; perhaps we can continue in the future.

This is one selfish reason to wish him good health and a very happy birthday.