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“Kornai’s work is indispensable” - Corvinus held an online book launch

In view of the epidemic situation, the book titled ‘Systems, Institutions, and Values in East and West: Engaging with János Kornai’s Scholarship’ was presented online on 23 September, reflecting the work of János Kornai by renowned Hungarian and foreign researchers. At the book launch, foreign and Hungarian economists paid tribute to the world-famous professor.

“A person at the age of 92 needs motivation to live. For me, this is work and research to this day. Thank you all for giving me thoughts worth addressing even after all these years!”. At the end of the one-hour book launch, János Kornai greeted the nearly 140 people who followed the unusual live online book launch.”

Kornai's thanks were mainly to those who organized the 90th birthday conference at Corvinus University of Budapest two years ago, in 2018, and to those who participated as speakers, as the thoughts of the nine studies of the now published book were presented at this conference.

At the presentation, Miklós Rosta, one of the editors of the volume, the head of the Department of Comparative and Institutional Economics of the Corvinus University of Budapest, welcomed viewers from many parts of the world and thanked the authors of the volume, namely, János Kornai, Bruno Dallago, Geoffrey M. Hodgson, László Jankovics, Éva Krenyácz, József Péter Martin, Péter Mihályi, Roland Gerard and Iván Szelényi, for their work. He said the authors of the studies in the book remain faithful to the philosophy represented by Kornai, as their research was based on empirical experience while embedding them in a theoretical framework that takes into account the importance of social context.

In his opinion, János Kornai's theories are lasting, among others, because they are viewed from a different perspectives in every age and they are continuously relevant. Explaining the title choices in the volume, he noted that although Kornai is known to identify with Western values, he also understands the value system of Eastern cultures because of his life experiences and research, so his choice of values is well-founded. Finally, Miklós Rosta recalled what Kornai said in an earlier interview, according to which he “has one foot in mainstream economics and one foot outside it”. He said this is an example for economists to follow in order to better understand social phenomena.

Erik Berglöf, a professor of LSE, has signed in from his quarantine in Shanghai, since September he will be working as a senior economist at Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in Beijing. He highlighted how accurately the three concepts in the title of the book (Systems, Institutions and Values) summarizes Kornai's entire work, as all three were key to Kornai's career. In his speech, Professor Berglöf outlined the significant impact Kornai had on Chinese economic policy and the exciting issues that the current Chinese economic and political processes raise, which Kornai also reflected on in his recent writings.

Bernard Chavance, a professor of economics at Diderot University in Paris, has written a number of defining books on comparative economic systems and institutions, within which he has paid particular attention to socialist systems and post-socialist transformation. The internationally renowned professor stressed that Kornai had contributed to economics by studying important dichotomies (e.g.: centralization vs. decentralization, market vs. bureaucracy, hard vs. soft budget constraint). He emphasized that the writings in the launched book fits in with Kornai’s theory of the system paradigm. He drew attention to the lasting theory of the famous causality chain in Kornai's socialist system analysis, since its first block, the political system, still really defines the basic characteristics of the given system, whether we are talking about China or Hungary. He called Kornai's work indispensable, not least because he first studied an internationally recognized book on the Soviet-type economy and later studied China, now one of the world's largest economies - having a serious impact on Chinese scientific life.

László Csaba, a professor at the Corvinus University of Budapest and CEU, a full member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, said that once he started, it was very difficult to put the book down, he encountered so many interesting suggestions in the studies. According to him, Kornai's thinking should not be forced into one category or school, it is so unique: "To understand Kornai's theories, we need to be able to think outside the box.”

According to the academic, the impact of Kornai’s work on economic thinking exceeds that of some Nobel Prize-winning economists, so even though he has never received the most prestigious scientific award, his recognition goes far beyond that. He praised the fact that the book presents the diversity of János Kornai’s work, leaving only the topic of China and the study of hybrid systems missing from the collection.

The other editor of the book, Dóra Piroska, associate professor of the Department of Economic Policy and Labor Economics of the Corvinus University of Budapest, compared the one he had just completed with a study volume published on the occasion of Kornai's 70th birthday in 1998. While the studies published in the previous volume dealt with both economics and, within that, mainly with trends in mathematical methodology, the studies published in the current volume examine each field from several social science disciplines, using an interdisciplinary approach. In recent decades, the work of János Kornai has been characterized by this.

Frances Pinter, executive chairman of the Central European University Press, who published the volume, also greeted Kornai. She highlighted that even with the current, unusual online circumstances, it is a great honor for her to meet such a significant economist. She shared with the audience her personal story that she had already come across one of Kornai’s works at her previous book publisher prior to its publishing, and it was a pleasant surprise to her that she could publish a book by a Hungarian researcher, which is infrequent in the international economic canon. To this day, she remembers well what precise and well-developed theories were included in that book as well. She also stressed that Kornai is one of the most important economic thinkers who not only express in words the principle of interdisciplinarity, but also realized this in his work.

At the end of the launch, János Kornai greeted the audience and then thanked the Corvinus University of Budapest and its lecturers for organizing the 2018 conference, and now the book compiled from the studies could be published.

The book titled "Systems, Institutions, and Values in East and West: Engaging with János’s Kornai’s Scholarship", published in English, is now available to order online from the Amazon web store.

Piroska, D., & Rosta, M. (Eds.). (2020). Systems, Institutions, and Values in East and West: Engaging with János Kornai's Scholarship. Budapest; New York: Central European University Press.

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