Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, born Nicolae Georgescu (4 February 1906 – 30 October 1994) was a Romanian American mathematician, statistician and economist, best known for his 1971 magnum opus The Entropy Law and the Economic Process, which situated the view that the second law of thermodynamics, i.e., that usable "free energy" tends to disperse or become lost in the form of "bound energy", governs economic processes.
Georgescu-Roegen's influence extends well beyond his well-known work on the thermodynamic foundations of economic systems and his career involved "his ambitious attempt to reformulate economic process as 'bioeconomics,' a new style of dialectical economic thought". He is therefore considered "one of the key intellectual progenitors of ecological economics" and of what would become the "minimal bioeconomic program."
He studied mathematics at the University of Bucharest, graduating in 1926. After winning a scholarship, he went on to study at the University of Paris, where his interests turned towards statistics and economics. He received a Ph.D. degree in 1930 for a thesis on latent cyclical components in time series. Another scholarship allowed him to pursue his studies for two years at the University College in London with Karl Pearson. In 1932, Georgescu-Roegen returned to Romania and became Professor of Statistics at the University of Bucharest. He held this position until 1946. He was a professor of economics at Vanderbilt University from 1950 to 1976. He won the university's Harvie Branscomb Distinguished Professor Award in 1961, and in 1971 the American Economic Association named him a Distinguished Fellow.
A principal contribution to economics by Georgescu-Roegen was the concept of entropy from thermodynamics (as distinguished from the mechanistic foundation of neoclassical economics drawn from Newtonian physics), as well as foundational work which later developed into evolutionary economics. His work contributed significantly to bioeconomics and to ecological economics.
He was a protégé of the renowned economist Joseph Schumpeter. His own protégés included foundational ecological economist Herman E. Daly and Kozo Mayumi who further extended Georgescu-Roegen’s theories on entropy in the study of energy analysis.
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In 2007, the Economist Herman Daly postulated that the work of Georgescu-Roegen was under-appreciated because he was ahead of his time. In 2012, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in New Delhi, India announced the first edition of the "Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen Annual Awards" in honor of economist and mathematician, from which Herman Daly is a jury member. Professor Kozo Mayumi, former student of Georgescu-Roegen, has been announced to be the first recipient of the award.
The Entropy Law and the Economic Process, described by the Library Journal as "...a great seminal work that challenges economic analysis", is a wide-ranging technical and philosophical exposition which promotes the case that economic activity can not be adequately described without taking into account the implications of second law of thermodynamics. It notes that the discovery of the second law in the mid nineteenth century resulted in the downfall of the mechanistic dogmas of Classical Physics. Whereas the equations of Newton's Laws of Motion were symmetrical with respect to time, the new law introduced the concept of irreversibility. Although the processes of living organisms appear to violate the second law, Schroedinger demonstrated in What is Life? that there is no inconsistency - organisms feed on low-entropy sources of energy to build and preserve their complex structures, and dissipate the energy in a higher entropic state. It argues that social and economic endeavours are an extension of these biological processes and are governed by the same principles.
He categorized the attempt by economists to quantify everything as an "arithmomorphic fallacy", and asserted that economic features should be viewed as dialectical in nature, ie having aspects which are logically inconsistent with each other.
On the other hand there is a view that Georgescu-Roegen's key contribution to economics, the way he integrated thermodynamics, is largely unscientific. Economist Veit Bütterlin claimed that Georgescu-Roegen's "fourth law of thermodynamics" is based on a mistaken interpretation of thermodynamics. For Georgescu-Roegen entropy and the second law of thermodynamics would be a metaphor for the development of raw materials to waste and finally for unavoidable destruction. Bütterlin states that environmental economics deals with earth's surface. Bütterlin as well as environmental scientist Ulrich Müller-Herold state that on earth's surface a system strives after a state of minimal free enthalpy, whereas entropy - in contrast to Georgescu-Roegen's assumption - would not have a clear trend. Also the environment as the entropic system could not be considered as the earth, but from a physical point of view as the universe.
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- “Utility”, International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (1968). Macmillan: New York.
- Energy and Economic Myths : Institutional and Analytical Economic Essays (1976). Pergamon Press: New York.
- The Entropy Law and the Economic Process (1971). Harvard University Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts.
- “Afterword”, in J. Rifkin and T. Howard, Entropy: A New World View (1980). The Viking Press: New York.
- Special, issue (September 1997). "Georgescu-Roegen (special)". Ecological Economics (ScienceDirect) 22 (3).
- Mayumi, Kozo; Gowdy, John, eds. (1999). Bioeconomics and Sustainability: Essays in Honor of Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar. ISBN 1-85898-667-2.
- Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen's biography at The History of Economic Thought website.
- Mayumi, Kozo (2001). The Origins of Ecological Economics: The Bioeconomics of Georgescu-Roegen. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group. ISBN 0-415-23523-5.
- Sunderlin, W.D. 2003. Ideology, Social Theory, and the Environment. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield.
- Zamagni, Stefano (2008) , "Georgescu-Roegen, Nicholas", in Eatwell, John; Milgate, Murray; Newman, Peter K., The New Palgrave: a dictionary of economics volume 2, London New York Tokyo: Macmillan Stockton Press Maruzen, pp. 515–516, ISBN 9780333740408.
- Maneschi, Andrea; Zamagni, Stefano (May 1997). "Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, 1906-1994". The Economic Journal (Wiley) 107 (442): 695–707. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0297.1997.tb00035.x. JSTOR 2957794.
- Vanderbilt University. "Harvie Branscomb Distinguished Professor Award". Retrieved 25 August 2011.
- American Economic Association. "Distinguished Fellows". Retrieved 25 August 2011.
- Cleveland, Cutler J.; Ruth, Matthias (September 1997). "When, where, and by how much do biophysical limits constrain the economic process?: A survey of Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen's contribution to ecological economics". Ecological Economics (ScienceDirect) 22 (3): 203–223. doi:10.1016/S0921-8009(97)00079-7.
- Daly, Herman E. (June 1995). "On Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen's contributions to economics: an obituary essay". Ecological Economics (ScienceDirect) 13 (3): 149–154. doi:10.1016/0921-8009(95)00011-W.
- Mayumi, Kozo (August 1995). "Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen (1906-1994): an admirable epistemologist". Structural Change and Economic Dynamics (ScienceDirect) 6 (3): 115–120. doi:10.1016/0954-349X(95)00014-E.
- Daly, Herman (2007). "How long can neoclassical economists ignore the contributions of Georgescu-Roegen?". Ecological Economics and Sustainable Development: Selected Essays of Herman Daly. Edward Elgar Pub. p. 126.
- "Georgescu-Roegen Awards". The Energy and Resources Institute, New Delhi. Retrieved 2012-12-23.
- Bütterlin, Veit (2007). Die Ökonomie der Nanotechnologie [The economics of nanotechnology] (in German). Marburg: Tectum. p. 198. ISBN 978-3-8288-9443-3.
- Müller-Herold, Ulrich (1999). "Ich, Clausius, die Entropie und die Ökonomen" [I, Clausius, entropy and economists] (PDF) (in German).
- Bütterlin, Veit (2007). Die Ökonomie der Nanotechnologie [The economics of nanotechnology] (in German). Marburg: Tectum. pp. 197–201. ISBN 978-3-8288-9443-3.
- Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen's biography at The History of Economic Thought website.
- Gowdy, J. and Mesner, S. 1998. The evolution of Georgescu-Roegen's bioeconomics. Review of Social Economy Vol. LVI, No. 2.
- Description of Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen's work in The Encyclopedia of Earth