Dr John Harsanyi

Dr John Harsanyi

Dr John Harsanyi

A Hungarian-born economist who played an integral role in the development of ‘game theory’ in economics, the late Dr John Harsanyi was one of four University of Sydney alumni to have won a Nobel Prize.

Upon migrating to Australia in December 1950, Dr Harsanyi initially tried to earn a living through manual labour, as his Hungarian university degrees were not recognised here and his English not yet fluent. The pursuit led to an array of short-term jobs due to what he described as a "lack of manual skills", but by 1953, he had received a Master of Arts from the University, which allowed him to spend the rest of his working life in academia. In 1954 he began a teaching job at the University of Queensland and later earned a fellowship for study at Stanford University in the US, where he received a PhD in 1959.

Returning to Australia later that year to lecture at the Australian National University in Canberra, Dr Harsanyi described feeling very isolated because, at that time, game theory was virtually unknown in Australia. In economics, political science, and psychology, game theory refers to how a set of actions by different people translates into outcomes which affect them all. It can be applied via mathematical models to almost any social phenomenon, including driving in traffic, and the decision to have children, give to charity, join a union, rebel, raise prices, or manufacture a product.

In 1964, Dr Harsanyi based himself back in the US, and for more than 20 years published many scientific papers and books. He received the 1994 Nobel Prize for Economics, which he shared with two others. The following year, an honorary Doctor of Science in Economics was conferred upon him by the University. He died due to a heart attack in Berkeley, California in 2000.