William Vickrey

Last updated
William Vickrey
William Vickrey.gif
Born(1914-06-21)21 June 1914
Died11 October 1996(1996-10-11) (aged 82)
Nationality Canada
Institution Columbia University
Field Public economics
School or
Post Keynesian economics
Alma mater Columbia University
Yale University
Carl Shoup
Robert M. Haig
David Colander
Jacques Drèze
Influences Henry George
Harold Hotelling
John Maynard Keynes
Contributions Vickrey auction
Revenue equivalence theorem
Congestion pricing
Information at IDEAS / RePEc

William Spencer Vickrey (21 June 1914 – 11 October 1996) was a Canadian-born professor of economics and Nobel Laureate. Vickrey was awarded the 1996 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences with James Mirrlees for their research into the economic theory of incentives under asymmetric information, becoming the only Nobel laureate born in British Columbia.


The announcement of his Nobel Prize was made just three days prior to his death. Vickrey died while traveling to a conference of Georgist academics that he helped found and never missed once in 20 years. [1] [2] His Columbia University economics department colleague C. Lowell Harriss accepted the posthumous prize on his behalf. There are only three other cases where a Nobel Prize has been presented posthumously.

Early years

Vickrey was born in Victoria, British Columbia and attended high school at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. After obtaining his B.S. in Mathematics at Yale University in 1935, he went on to complete his M.A. in 1937 and Ph.D. in 1948 at Columbia University, where he remained for most of his career.


Vickrey was the first to use the tools of game theory to explain the dynamics of auctions. [3] In his seminal paper, Vickrey derived several auction equilibria, and provided an early revenue-equivalence result. The revenue equivalence theorem remains the centrepiece of modern auction theory. The Vickrey auction is named after him. [3]

Vickrey worked on congestion pricing, the notion that roads and other services should be priced so that users see the costs that arise from the service being fully used when there is still demand. [4] [5] [6] [7] Congestion pricing gives a signal to users to adjust their behavior or to investors to expand the service in order to remove the constraint. The theory was later partially put into action in London.

In public economics, Vickrey extended the Georgist marginal cost pricing approach of Harold Hotelling [8] and showed how public goods should be provided at marginal cost and capital investment outlays financed with land value tax. Vickrey wrote that replacing taxes on production and labor ("including property taxes on improvements") with fees for holding valuable land sites "would substantially improve the economic efficiency of the jurisdiction". [9] Vickrey further argued that land value tax had no adverse effects and that replacing existing taxes in this way would increase local productivity enough that land prices would rise instead of fall. He also made an ethical argument for Georgist value capture, noting that owners of valuable locations still take (exclude others from) local public goods, even if they choose not to use them, so without land value tax, land users have to pay twice for those public services (once in tax to government and once in rent to holders of land title). [10]

Vickrey's economic philosophy was influenced by John Maynard Keynes and Henry George. [11] He was sharply critical of the Chicago school of economics and was vocal in opposing the political focus on achieving balanced budgets and fighting inflation, especially in times of high unemployment. Working under General MacArthur, Vickrey helped accomplish radical land reform in Japan. [12]

Vickrey had many graduate students and protegés at Columbia University, including the economists Jacques Drèze, Harvey J. Levin, [13] and Lynn Turgeon. [14]

Personal life

Vickrey married Cecile Thompson in 1951. He was a Quaker and a member of Scarsdale Friends Meeting. [15] He died in Harrison, New York in 1996 from heart failure.

Selected works

See also

Related Research Articles

Microeconomics Branch of economics that studies the behavior of individual households and firms in making decisions on the allocation of limited resources

Microeconomics is a branch of economics that studies the behavior of individuals and firms in making decisions regarding the allocation of scarce resources and the interactions among these individuals and firms.

Léon Walras French mathematical economist

Marie-Esprit-Léon Walras was a French mathematical economist and Georgist. He formulated the marginal theory of value and pioneered the development of general equilibrium theory.

Transport economics

Transport economics is a branch of economics founded in 1959 by American economist John R. Meyer that deals with the allocation of resources within the transport sector. It has strong links to civil engineering. Transport economics differs from some other branches of economics in that the assumption of a spaceless, instantaneous economy does not hold. People and goods flow over networks at certain speeds. Demands peak. Advance ticket purchase is often induced by lower fares. The networks themselves may or may not be competitive. A single trip may require the bundling of services provided by several firms, agencies and modes.

This aims to be a complete article list of economics topics:

Classical economics or classical political economy is a school of thought in economics that flourished, primarily in Britain, in the late 18th and early-to-mid 19th century. Its main thinkers are held to be Adam Smith, Jean-Baptiste Say, David Ricardo, Thomas Robert Malthus, and John Stuart Mill. These economists produced a theory of market economies as largely self-regulating systems, governed by natural laws of production and exchange.

Georgism Economic philosophy centred on common ownership of land

Georgism, also called in modern times geoism and known historically as the single tax movement, is an economic ideology holding that while people should own the value they produce themselves, the economic rent derived from land, including from all natural resources and the commons, should belong equally to all members of society. Developed from the writings of American economist and social reformer Henry George, the Georgist paradigm seeks solutions to social and ecological problems, based on principles of land rights and public finance which attempt to integrate economic efficiency with social justice.

Sir James Alexander Mirrlees was a Scottish economist and winner of the 1996 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. He was knighted in the 1997 Birthday Honours.

Harold Hotelling American economist and statistician

Harold Hotelling was an American mathematical statistician and an influential economic theorist, known for Hotelling's law, Hotelling's lemma, and Hotelling's rule in economics, as well as Hotelling's T-squared distribution in statistics. He also developed and named the principal component analysis method widely used in finance, statistics and computer science.

Club good

Club goods are a type of good in economics, sometimes classified as a subtype of public goods that are excludable but non-rivalrous, at least until reaching a point where congestion occurs. Often these goods exhibit high excludability, but at the same time low rivalry in consumption. Thus, club goods have essentially zero marginal costs and are generally provided by what is commonly known as natural monopolies. Furthermore, Club goods have artificial scarcity. Club theory is the area of economics that studies these goods. One of the most famous provisions was published by Buchanan in 1965 "An Economic Theory of Clubs," in which he addresses the question of how the size of the group influences the voluntary provision of a public good and more fundamentally provides a theoretical structure of communal or collective ownership-consumption arrangements.

Merrill Mason Gaffney was an American economist and a major critic of Neoclassical economics from a Georgist point of view. Gaffney first read Henry George's masterwork Progress and Poverty as a high school junior. This interest led him to Harvard in 1941 but, unimpressed with their approach to economics he left in 1942 to join the war effort. After serving in the southwest Pacific during World War II he earned his B.A. in 1948 from Reed College in Portland, Oregon.. In 1956 he gained a Ph.D. in Economics at the University of California, Berkeley. There he addressed his teachers' skepticism about Georgism with a dissertation entitled "Land Speculation as an Obstacle to Ideal Allocation of Land." Gaffney was Professor of Economics at the University of California, Riverside from 1976 onwards. He died in July 2020 at the age of 96.

Abba P. Lerner American economist

Abraham "Abba" Ptachya Lerner was a Russian-born British economist.

A Lindahl tax is a form of taxation conceived by Erik Lindahl in which individuals pay for public goods according to their marginal benefits. In other words, they pay according to the amount of satisfaction or utility they derive from the consumption of an additional unit of the public good.

Auction theory is an applied branch of economics which deals with how people act in auction markets and researches the properties of auction markets. There are many possible designs for an auction and typical issues studied by auction theorists include the efficiency of a given auction design, optimal and equilibrium bidding strategies, and revenue comparison. Auction theory is also used as a tool to inform the design of real-world auctions; most notably auctions for the privatization of public-sector companies or the sale of licenses for use of the electromagnetic spectrum.

The history of economic thought deals with different thinkers and theories in the subject that became political economy and economics, from the ancient world to the present day in the 21st Century. This field encompasses many disparate schools of economic thought. Ancient Greek writers such as the philosopher Aristotle examined ideas about the art of wealth acquisition, and questioned whether property is best left in private or public hands. In the Middle Ages, scholasticists such as Thomas Aquinas argued that it was a moral obligation of businesses to sell goods at a just price.

Optimal tax theory or the theory of optimal taxation is the study of designing and implementing a tax that maximises a social welfare function subject to economic constraints. The social welfare function used is typically a function of individuals' utilities, most commonly some form of utilitarian function, so the tax system is chosen to maximise the aggregate of individual utilities. Tax revenue is required to fund the provision of public goods and other government services, as well as for redistribution from rich to poor individuals. However, most taxes distort individual behavior, because the activity that is taxed becomes relatively less desirable; for instance, taxes on labour income reduce the incentive to work. The optimization problem involves minimizing the distortions caused by taxation, while achieving desired levels of redistribution and revenue. Some taxes are thought to be less distorting, such as lump-sum taxes and Pigouvian taxes, where the market consumption of a good is inefficient and a tax brings consumption closer to the efficient level.

The Henry George theorem, named for 19th century U.S. political economist and activist Henry George, states that under certain conditions, aggregate spending by government on public goods will increase aggregate rent based on land value more than that amount, with the benefit of the last marginal investment equaling its cost. This general relationship, first noted by the French physiocrats in the 18th century, is one basis for advocating the collection of a tax based on land rents to help defray the cost of public investment that helps create land values. Henry George popularized this method of raising public revenue in his works, which launched the 'single tax' movement.

Outline of economics Overview of and topical guide to economics

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to economics:

Jacques H. Drèze is a Belgian economist noted for his contributions to economic theory, econometrics, and economic policy as well as for his leadership in the economics profession. Drèze was the first President of the European Economic Association in 1986 and was the President of the Econometric Society in 1970.

Pavlina R. Tcherneva American economist

Pavlina R. Tcherneva is an American economist, of Bulgarian descent, working as associate professor and director of the Economics program at Bard College. She is also a research associate at the Levy Economics Institute and expert at the Institute for New Economic Thinking.

Clement Lowell Harriss (1912–2009) was an American economist, a past president of the National Tax Association and a former executive director of the Academy of Political Science. He was one of the United States' leading tax experts and the author of highly regarded economics textbooks and other books on economic subjects. He was professor emeritus of economics at Columbia University and taught there for 43 years. He was the professor for whom the C. Lowell Harriss Professorship of Economics and International Affairs at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia was named.


  1. Netzer, Dick (November 1996). "Remembering William Vickrey". Land Lines. 8 (6). Retrieved 2 September 2016.
  2. Gaffney, Mason. "Warm Memories of Bill Vickrey". Land & Liberty. Retrieved 15 November 2016.
  3. 1 2 Vickrey, 1961
  4. "Nobelist William S. Vickrey: Practical Economic Solutions to Urban Problems". Columbia University. 1996-10-08. Retrieved 2009-03-27.
  5. Daniel Gross (2007-02-17). "What's the Toll? It Depends on the Time of Day". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-07-15.
  6. Victoria Transport Policy Institute (1992). "Principles of Efficient Congestion Pricing – William Vickrey". Victoria Transport Policy Institute. Retrieved 2009-03-10.
  7. Harford, Tim (13 November 2019). "Is surge pricing a fair way to manage demand?". BBC News.
  8. Red-Light Taxes and Green-Light Taxes Mason Gaffney For the Conference, "Sharing Our Common Heritage: Resource Taxes and Green Dividends" Mansfield College, Oxford, 14 May 1998 http://www.wealthandwant.com/docs/Gaffney_RLT&GLT.html Quote: "Georgists need to introspect deeply over this case, and many like it, and master the theory and practice of marginal-cost pricing as developed so ably by closet Georgist economists like Harold Hotelling and William Vickrey."
  9. Vickrey, William. "The Corporate Income Tax in the U.S. Tax System, 73 TAX NOTES 597, 603 (1996). Quote: "Removing almost all business taxes, including property taxes on improvements, excepting only taxes reflecting the marginal social cost of public services rendered to specific activities, and replacing them with taxes on site values, would substantially improve the economic efficiency of the jurisdiction."
  10. Vickrey, William. Remarks at The Henry George School of New York, 1993. http://www.cooperative-individualism.org/land-question_t-z.htm
  11. Turgeon, Lynn. Bastard Keynesianism : the evolution of economic thinking and policymaking since World War II. Westport, Conn: Praeger, 1997
  12. Gaffney, Mason. The corruption of economics. London: Shepheard-Walwyn in association with Centre for Incentive Taxation, 2006 http://masongaffney.org/publications/K1Neo-classical_Stratagem.CV.pdf
  13. Harvey J. Levin
  14. Lynn Turgeon
  15. William Vickrey - Biographical

Further reading

Preceded by
Robert E. Lucas Jr.
Laureate of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics
Served alongside: James A. Mirrlees
Succeeded by
Robert C. Merton
Myron S. Scholes