A Remembrance of William Vickrey

Dick Netzer

[Reprinted from Land Lines, November 1996, Vol. 8, No.6]

William Vickrey died on October 11, three days after the announcement of his being awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics, while on his way to the Lincoln Institute for the annual research conference of the Committee on Taxation, Resources and Economic Development (TRED).

TRED meetings have been sponsored by the Institute for 20 years, and Bill Vickrey was at every one of those meetings. Indeed, his connection with TRED goes back even further, for he was one of the committee's founding members more than 35 years ago. TRED began in discussions among academic economists who were interested in contemporary applications of the ideas of Henry George and were also concerned with land and natural resources. Over the years, TRED's membership expanded to include public finance and urban economists interested in the use of land and economic phenomena related to how things are arranged over space.

Bill Vickrey was the ultimate intellectual sparkplug of TRED from the beginning. His wonderful inventiveness and irreverence came out in inspired, seemingly off-the-cuff interventions in the discussion, some of which have changed thinking about economics and economic policy forever. For example, in one sally he imagined a linear city in which all structures were truly mobile. This image made it possible to think clearly about location, the effects of the durability and immobility of structures, and appropriate land policies, without being trapped by peripheral issues. No one could cut to the quick like Vickrey.

TRED member Ed Mills of Northwestern University spoke to our assembled group at the Institute shortly after hearing the news of Bill's untimely death. "Bill Vickrey lived his life exactly as he wished, right to the end," Mills said. "He died with his boots on." Those of us who have been honored to know Bill for some time have been shaped by our contact with him, and we will miss him.