János Kornai

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János Kornai
Born (1928-01-21) 21 January 1928 (age 94)
Budapest, Hungary
Nationality Hungary
School or tradition
Institutional economics[1]
Contributions Theory of two-level planning
Shortage economy
Information at IDEAS / RePEc

János Kornai (born János Kornhauser; 21 January 1928) is a Hungarian economist[2] noted for his analysis and criticism of the command economies of Eastern European communist states. He also covered macroeconomic aspects in countries undergoing post-Soviet transition. He is emeritus professor at both Harvard University and Corvinus University of Budapest.


Kornai studied philosophy for two years at Pázmány Péter University (now Eötvös Loránd University) in Budapest. He gained his knowledge in economics on his own, and holds a candidate degree in the field from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. He wrote that he chose to become an economist after reading Marx's Das Kapital.[3][4] He started working on Szabad Nép, the Hungarian Communist Party newspaper, and rose to the rank of editor of news related to the economy, but after a few years, he was fired for lack of Communist convictions in April 1955.[3]

From 1958 onward, Kornai received many invitations to visit foreign institutions, but he was denied a passport by the Hungarian authorities and not allowed to travel until 1963, after political restrictions had begun to ease.

From 1967 until 1992 he was a Research Professor at the Institute of Economics, Hungarian Academy of Sciences. He became a corresponding member (1976), then a full member (1982) of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Kornai joined the faculty of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, in 1986 and was named the Allie S. Freed Professor of Economics in 1992. He retired from Harvard in 2002. In the same year, he became a founder and Permanent Fellow of the internationally fostered Collegium Budapest, Institute for Advanced Study. He is a Distinguished Research Professor at Central European University, and since 2011 Professor Emeritus at Corvinus University of Budapest.

Kornai was a Member of the Board of the Hungarian National Bank (central bank) until 2001. He has authored many economics-related books and papers.


In the late 1950s, he was among those who initiated the use of mathematical methods in economic planning. He elaborated the theory of two-level planning with Tamás Lipták and directed the first large-scale, economy-wide, multi-level planning project. Professor Kornai's early work Overcentralization (1953) created a stir in the West and conveyed for the first time his disillusionment with communist central planning.

His 1971 book Anti-Equilibrium criticizes neoclassical economics, particularly general equilibrium theory.

His 1980 book Economics of Shortage is perhaps his most influential work. It argues that the chronic shortages seen throughout Eastern Europe in the late 1970s and continuing in the 1980s were not the consequences of planners' errors or wrong pricing, but of systemic flaws. In his 1988 book The Socialist System, The Political Economy of Communism, he argued that the command economy based on unchallenged control by a Marxist–Leninist communist party leads to a predominance of bureaucratic administration of state firms, through centralized planning and management, and the use of administrative pricing to eliminate the effects of the market. This brings individual responses to the incentives of the system, culminating in observable and inescapable economic phenomena known as the shortage economy. Kornai remains highly skeptical of efforts to create market socialism.

His later works, including The Road to a Free Economy (1990), Highway and Byways (1995), Struggle and Hope (1997) and Welfare in Transition (2001), deal with macroeconomic aspects and the interaction between politics and economic policy in the period of economic transition in the post-Soviet states. He later led a comprehensive research project, Honesty and Trust in the Light of Post-Socialist Transition at Collegium Budapest.

Kornai is a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.[5] In 2016 he was elected as a foreign associate of the National Academy of Sciences.[6]

In 2007 Kornai published a book of memoirs, By Force of Thought, covering his research and the social and political environments in which he did his work.[7] New editions of some of Kornai's major works appeared in Hungarian from a Bratislava publisher in 2012.[8]

See also


  1. James Wilkerson, Robert Parkin (eds.), Modalities of Change: The Interface of Tradition and Modernity in East Asia, Berghahn Books, 2012, p. 7.
  2. Andreff, Wladimir (2020). "Janos Kornai: a non-mainstream pathway from economic planning to disequilibrium economics". Public Choice. doi:10.1007/s11127-020-00813-6. ISSN 1573-7101. S2CID 219459436.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 (French) François Fejtő, "Les Mémoires politiques et intellectuels d'un grand économiste hongrois", Sociétal, Q1 2008, p.110 ff.
  4. Sen, Amartya (2020-08-19). "Marx after Kornai". Public Choice. doi:10.1007/s11127-020-00838-x. ISSN 1573-7101.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences: János Kornai". Retrieved 2012-01-25.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. National Academy of Sciences Members and Foreign Associates Elected, News from the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Sciences, May 3, 2016, archived from the original on May 6, 2016, retrieved 2016-05-14<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  7. Kornai, János (2006). By Force of Thought: Irregular Memoirs of an Intellectual Journey. Translated by McLean, Brian. Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: MIT Press. hdl:2027/heb.32491. ISBN 9780262113021.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Balázs Hámori: "János válogatott művei sorozat a pozsonyi Kalligram kiadásában" (Series of selected works by János Kornai published by Kalligram of Bratislava). Közgazdasági Szemle LIX, February 2012, pp. 220–228.

External links

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  • His own website