June 21, 1914–October 11, 1996
BY JACQUES H. DRÈZE
WWILLIAM VICKREY DIED on October 11, 1996, three days after the announcement that the 1996 Bank of Sweden prize in economic sciences in memory of Alfred Nobel was being awarded to him and to Professor James Mirrlees of Cambridge “for their fundamental contributions to the economic theory of incentives under asymmetric information.” Vickrey was eighty-two years old and had been a member of the National Academy of Sciences since April 1996. The press release from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences refers specifically to his work in the mid-forties on income taxation, then in the early sixties on auctions. With characteristic independence, Vickrey reacted by privileging instead his work of the late thirties on cumulative averaging of income for tax purposes and his then current concern with unemployment. Early insights, lifetime dedication, and late recognition are unmistakable traits of a truly remarkable career devoted to economics in the service of the public sector.
William Vickrey was born in 1914 in Victoria, British Columbia (Canada). He attended Yale, obtaining a science B.S. degree in 1935 and then went to Columbia University for graduate work in economics, obtaining an M.A. in 1937.