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Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen born Nicolae Georgescu , 4 February — 30 October was a Romanian mathematician , statistician and economist. He is best known today for his magnum opus The Entropy Law and the Economic Process , in which he argued that all natural resources are irreversibly degraded when put to use in economic activity.
A progenitor and a paradigm founder in economics , Georgescu-Roegen's work was seminal in establishing ecological economics as an independent academic sub-discipline in economics. Several economists have hailed Georgescu-Roegen as a man who lived well ahead of his time, and some historians of economic thought have proclaimed the ingenuity of his work. In the history of economic thought , Georgescu-Roegen was the first economist of some standing to theorise on the premise that all of earth's mineral resources will eventually be exhausted at some point.
As he brought natural resource flows into economic modelling and analysis, Georgescu-Roegen's work was seminal in establishing ecological economics as an independent academic sub-discipline in economics in the s.
The inability or reluctance of most mainstream economists to recognise Georgescu-Roegen's work has been ascribed to the fact that much of his work reads like applied physics rather than economics, as this latter subject is generally taught and understood today.
Georgescu-Roegen's work was blemished somewhat by mistakes caused by his insufficient understanding of the physical science of thermodynamics. These mistakes have since generated some controversy, involving both physicists and ecological economists. The life of Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen born Nicolae Georgescu spanned most of the 20th century, from to In his native Romania , he lived through two world wars and three dictatorships before he fled the country.
Living in political exile in the US in the second half of his life, he witnessed at a distance the rise and fall of socialism in Romania.
He made many important contributions to mainstream neoclassical economics before he finally turned against it and published his paradigmatic magnum opus on The Entropy Law and the Economic Process.
Although this work was seminal in establishing ecological economics as an independent academic sub-discipline in economics , Georgescu-Roegen died disappointed and bitter that his paradigmatic work did not receive the appreciation he had expected for it in his own lifetime. His father, of Greek descent, was an army officer. His mother, an ethnic Romanian, was a sewing teacher at a girls school.
The father spent time teaching his son how to read, write and calculate, and planted in the boy the seed of intellectual curiosity. By her living example, the mother taught her son the value of hard work. After having lost his position in the army for disciplinary reasons, the father died when Nicolae was only eight years old.
The mix of various cultures and ethnic groups in the town shaped Nicolae's cosmopolitan spirit from his earliest years. Nicolae won a scholarship there in , but his attendance was delayed by Romania's entry into World War I. His widowed mother fled with the family to Bucharest , the country's capital, where they stayed with Nicolae's maternal grandmother during the rest of the war.
In these times of hardship, Nicolae had traumatic boyhood experiences of the agonies of war. He wanted to become a mathematics teacher, but he could barely keep up his schoolwork. After the war, Nicolae returned to his home town to attend the lyceum. Teaching standards were high, and many of the teachers later went on to become university professors, but the discipline was regimented, with mock-military physical exercises and wearing uniforms.
Students were not permitted to leave the school except in summer and briefly during Christmas and Easter. Nicolae proved to be an excellent student, especially in mathematics. He later credited the five years of secondary education he received at the lyceum for providing him with an extraordinary education that would serve him well later in his career, but he also blamed the discipline and the monastic isolation of the place for having stunted his social abilities, something that would put him at odds with acquaintances and colleagues throughout his life.
At the lyceum, it turned out that Nicolae Georgescu had a namesake. Georgescu-Roegen would retain this addendum for the rest of his life. Later in his life, he also changed his first name to its French and English form, 'Nicholas'. Georgescu-Roegen received his diploma from the lyceum in Thanks to a scholarship awarded to children from poor families, he was soon after accepted at the University of Bucharest for further studies in mathematics.
The curriculum there was conventional, and the teaching methods were much the same as those that had prevailed at the lyceum. At the university, he met the woman who would later become his wife for the rest of his life, Otilia Busuioc. To sustain himself during his studies, he gave private lessons and taught in a grammar school outside the city. At the university, Georgescu-Roegen became closely acquainted with one of his professors, Traian Lalescu , a renowned mathematician of the day who had taken a special interest in applying mathematical methods to economic reality using statistics.
Lalescu was concerned with the lack of adequate data needed to analyse Romania's economy, so he encouraged Georgescu-Roegen to pursue this line of research in further studies abroad.
Georgescu-Roegen soon followed this piece of advice: In he went to France to study at the Institute de Statistique, Sorbonne in Paris. Georgescu-Roegen's stay in Paris broadened his field of study well beyond pure mathematics. Not only did he attend the lectures of the best statistics and economics professors in France, he also immersed himself in the philosophy of science , especially the works of Blaise Pascal , Ernst Mach , and Henri Bergson.
Daily life was not easy for a poor foreign student in a great city. But his studies progressed splendidly: in , Georgescu-Roegen defended his doctoral dissertation on how to discover the cyclical components of a phenomenon. He passed with extraordinary honour.
Pearson was a leading English scholar of the time, with a field of interests that coincided with Georgescu-Roegen's own, namely mathematics, statistics, and philosophy of science.
Georgescu-Roegen made arrangements to lodge with the family of a young Englishman he had met in Paris and left for England in During his stay in London, his hosts not only accepted Georgescu-Roegen as their paying guest, but also taught him the basics of the English language, in preparation for his studies in the country.
When he approached Pearson and the English university system, Georgescu-Roegen was amazed with the informality and openness he found. Studying with Pearson for the next two years and reading Pearson's work on the philosophy of science, titled The Grammar of Science , further shaped Georgescu-Roegen's scientific methodology and philosophy.
The two became friends, and Pearson encouraged Georgescu-Roegen to carry on with his studies in mathematical statistics. They co-pioneered research on the so-called "problem of moments ", one of the most difficult topics in statistics at the time, but neither was able to solve the problem.
This was a great disappointment to Pearson, but Georgescu-Roegen was pleased by their joint effort nonetheless. Due to his past academic achievements, the foundation wanted to grant Georgescu-Roegen a research fellowship in the US. Georgescu-Roegen had earlier learned of the use of time series analyses by the then famous Harvard Economic Barometer at Harvard University , so he accepted the grant.
In autumn , Georgescu-Roegen went to the US. On arriving at Harvard University , he learned that the Economic Barometer had been shut down years before: The project had completely failed to predict the Wall Street Crash of , and was soon abandoned altogether.
After several failed attempts to find another sponsor for his research, Georgescu-Roegen finally managed a meeting with the professor at the university teaching business cycles to see if there were any other opportunities available to him. This professor happened to be Joseph Schumpeter. Meeting Schumpeter at this point completely changed the direction of Georgescu-Roegen's life and career. Schumpeter warmly welcomed Georgescu-Roegen to Harvard, and soon introduced him to the now famous 'circle', one of the most remarkable groups of economists ever working at the same institution, including Wassily Leontief , Oskar Lange , Fritz Machlup , and Nicholas Kaldor , among others.
Georgescu-Roegen was now in a stimulating intellectual environment with weekly evening gatherings and informal academic discussions, where Schumpeter himself presided as the 'ringmaster' of the circle. In Schumpeter, Georgescu-Roegen had found a competent and sympathetic mentor. Although Georgescu-Roegen never formally enrolled in any economics classes, this was how he became an economist: "Schumpeter turned me into an economist My only degree in economics is from Universitas Schumpeteriana.
While at Harvard, Georgescu-Roegen published four important papers, laying the foundations for his later theories of consume and production.
Georgescu-Roegen's trip to the US was not all spent at Harvard. He managed to obtain a modest stipend for himself and his wife Otilia that enabled them to travel about the country, journeying as far as California.
Through Schumpeter's contacts, Georgescu-Roegen had the opportunity to meet Irving Fisher , Harold Hotelling , and other leading economists of the day. He also met Albert Einstein at Princeton University. During his stay, Georgescu-Roegen's relationship with Schumpeter developed.
Realising that Georgescu-Roegen was a promising young scholar, Schumpeter wanted to keep him at Harvard. He offered Georgescu-Roegen a position with the economics faculty, and asked him to work with him on an economics treatise as a joint effort, just the two of them, but Georgescu-Roegen declined.
He wanted to go back to Romania in order to serve his backward fatherland that had sponsored most of his education so far; besides, his return was expected at home. Later in his life, Georgescu-Roegen would regret having turned down Schumpeter's generous offer at this point in his career.
In spring , Georgescu-Roegen left the US. His voyage back to Romania came to last almost a year in itself, as he paid a long visit to Friedrich Hayek and John Hicks at the London School of Economics on the way home.
He was in no hurry to return. From to , Georgescu-Roegen lived in Romania, where he witnessed all the turmoils and excesses of World War II and the subsequent rise to power of the communists in the country. During the war, Georgescu-Roegen lost his only brother due to a fatal reaction to a tuberculosis vaccine.
Upon his return from the US to Bucharest, Georgescu-Roegen was soon appointed to several government posts. His doctoral dissertation from Sorbonne as well as his other academic credentials earned him a respectable reputation everywhere, and his fine French and English skills were needed in the foreign affairs department.
He became vice-director of the Central Statistical Institute, responsible for compiling data on the country's foreign trade on a daily basis; he also served on the National Board of Trade, settling commercial agreements with the major foreign powers; he even participated in the diplomatic negotiations concerning the reassignment of Romania's national borders with Hungary.
Georgescu-Roegen engaged himself in politics and joined the pro-monarchy National Peasants' Party. The country's economy was still underdeveloped and had a large agrarian base, where the mass of the peasantry lived in backwardness and poverty. Substantial land reforms were called for if the most appalling inequalities between the rural and the urban parts of the population were to be evened out. Georgescu-Roegen put a persuasive effort into this work and was soon elevated to the higher ranks of the party, becoming member of the party's National Council.
Georgescu-Roegen did only little academic work during this period of his life. Although he did reside in his native country, Georgescu-Roegen would later refer to this period of his life as his Romanian 'exile': The exile was an intellectual one for him. By the end of the war, Romania was occupied by the Soviet Union. A trusted government official and a leading member of an influential political party, Georgescu-Roegen was appointed general secretary of the Armistice Commission, responsible for negotiating the conditions for peace with the occupying power.
The negotiations dragged out for half a year and came to involve long and stressful discussions: During most of the war, Romania had been an Axis power allied with Nazi Germany , so the Soviet representatives treated the commission as nothing but a vehicle for levying the largest possible amount of war reparations on the Romanian people. After the war, political forces in the country began encroaching on Georgescu-Roegen.
Before and during the war, Romania had already passed through three successive dictatorships , and the fourth one was now imminent. Plenty of items on Georgescu-Roegen's track record were suitable for antagonising both the native Romanian communists and the Soviet authorities that still occupied the country: His top membership of the Peasants' Party, in open opposition to the Communist Party; his chief negotiating position in the Armistice Commission, defending Romania's sovereignty against the occupying power; and his earlier affiliation with capitalist US as a Rockefeller research fellow at Harvard University.
Political repression in the country intensified as the rise to power of the communists was completing, and Georgescu-Roegen finally realised it was time to get away: " I had to flee Romania before I was thrown into a jail from which no one has ever come out alive.
Having visited Turkey before on official business, Georgescu-Roegen was able to use his contacts there to notify Schumpeter and Leontief at Harvard University in the US about his flight. Leontief offered Georgescu-Roegen a position at Harvard, and made the necessary arrangements for the couple in advance of their arrival there.
Bioeconomia în opera lui Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen