Oskar Morgenstern

Austrian economist

Oskar Morgenstern (January 24, 1902 – July 26, 1977) was a German-born economist, and prominent member of the Austrian School of Economics before the Second World War. Later in collaboration with mathematician John von Neumann, he founded the mathematical field of game theory and its application to economics.

Companies he served as founder/co-founder included Market Research Corporation of America, and Mathematica Policy Research Inc.


  • Recovery is therefore something much more elemental. It aims at continuation of life, on a simple and primitive basis. From mere survival, in view of perhaps a hundred million people killed within a few days, to the construction of a society which adheres to the lofty ideas we cherish today is a long way. And the survivors may develop ideals so different from ours that we may not recognize the country— should we live to make the comparison, or, living, should we care to make it even if we could.
    • Oskar Morgenstern (1959), The Question of National Defense, p. 129.
  • As far as the use of mathematics in economics is concerned, there is an abundance of formulas where such are not needed. They are frequently introduced, one fears, in order to show off. The more difficult the mathematical theorem, the more esoteric the name of the mathematician quoted, the better.
    • Oskar Morgenstern, "Limits of the Use of Mathematics in Economics," in: James C. Charlesworth (Hg.), Mathematics and the Social Science. The Utility and Inutility of Mathematics in the Study of Economics, Political Sciences and Sociology, Philadelphia 1963, S. 12-29, hier S. 18.
  • Alliances are always weaker in peacetime; alliances tend to become hard and fast and strong when things are going badly... but when things are going well, cooperation is hard to achieve.
    • In: National Security: Political, Military, Economic Strategies Decade Ahead, (1963), p. 678.
  • All economic decisions, whether private or business, as well as those involving economic policy, have the characteristic that quantitative and non-quantitative information must be combined into one act of decision. It would be desirable to understand how these two classes of information can best be combined.
    • Attributed to Morgenstern in: John H. McArthur, ‎Bruce R. Scott (1969), Industrial planning in France. p. 21.
  • "Wherever mathematics has entered it has never again been pushed out by other developments. The mathematization of an area of human endeavor is not a passing fad; it is the prime mover of scientific and technological progress."
    • Oskar Morgenstern (Mathematica/Mathematic Policy Research), (from "A Look Back at Some of Our Contributions Over Time")

Quotes about Oskar Morgenstern

  • Had it merely called to our attention the existence and exact nature of certain fundamental gaps in economic theory, the Theory of Economic Behavior by von Neumann and Morgenstern would have been a book of outstanding importance. But it does more than that. It is essentially constructive: where existing theory is considered to be inadequate, the authors put in its place a highly novel analytical apparatus designed to cope with the problem.
    It would be doing the authors an injustice to say that theirs is a contribution to economics only. The scope of the book is much broader. The techniques applied by the authors in tackling economic problems are of sufficient generality to be valid in political science, sociology, or even military strategy. The applicability to games proper (chess and poker) is obvious from the title. Moreover, the book is of considerable interest from a purely mathematical point of view.
    • Leonid Hurwicz. "The Theory of Economic Behavior," The American Economic Review, Vol. 35, No. 5 (Dec., 1945), pp. 909: Lead paragraphs of the article.
  • The theory of games was first formalised by Von Neumann & Morgenstern (1953) in reference to human economic behaviour. Since that time, the theory has undergone extensive development... Sensibly enough, a central assumption of classical game theory is that the players will behave rationally, and according to some criterion of self-interest. Such an assumption would clearly be out of place in an evolutionary context. Instead, the criterion of rationality is replaced by that of population dynamics and stability, and the criterion of self-interest by Darwinian fitness.
  • My first contact with game theory was a popular article in Fortune Magazine which I read in my last high school year. I was immediately attracted to the subject matter and when I studied mathematics I found the fundamental book by von Neumann and Morgenstern in the library and studied it.
  • By the end of the war the new game theoretic methods that had been developed by von Neumann and Morgenstern were added to the toolkit and mathematical techniques that operations research scientists deployed. These proved very valuable, and game theoretic approaches took on great importance after the war.
    • M. Fortun, and S.S. Schweber (1993) "Scientists and the Legacy of World War II: The Case of Operations Research (OR)." Social Studies of Science Vol 23, p. 604.
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