Deciphering Timelessness through Ephemeral Numbers In memory of Professor Cezar Mereuță (1936-2021)
I first made the acquaintance of Professor Cezar Mereuță in the most natural way a young novice economist can meet a master of the profession: as a name on a textbook. In the Professor’s case, his exposure to “the market for ideas” has always been deliberately bimodal: both in the realm of academia and in economic mass-media. I, too, have chosen to heed this tenet of dualism, for although scientific truth is sublime, its social value is only apparent once it is communicated: the “economy” of (the economic) science is inevitably a “mixed” one, its nature being both “public” (in the sense of its popularisation, not politicisation) and “private” (in the sense of being responsible for the appropriateness of one’s terminology and the adequacy of one’s methodology). Among economists, discussions can veer into opaqueness, yet it is clear that disseminating the fruits of economic research via mass-media has always been a goal of Professor Mereuță, for the sake of civility and the civil population at large. I worked alongside him for roughly twelve years, first as a reader, then as editor, foreword author and, lastly, co-author.
“Coincidences” – in the case of my relationship with Professor Mereuță, it was not our professional similarities that weighed the most in cementing our collaboration. Au contraire, it was the epistemological, methodological, doctrinal and ideological “coincidentia oppositorum”. Yet, it was one coincidence that drew our attention (and us closer together): the life and work of Vilfredo Pareto, who seems to have gained a Romanian avatar in the person of Professor Mereuță himself. I shall discuss this coincidence in further detail some other time, but I would like to leave three clues:
(1) Both were engineers by training, with PhDs in technical sciences: V. Pareto earned his from the Polytechnic University of Torino with a thesis on the fundamental principles of equilibrium in solid bodies, with equilibrium analysis further applied to economics and sociology; C. Mereuță earned his PhD from the Polytechnic University of Bucharest with a thesis on the electric energy criteria in driving discontinuous production processes, further applying concepts from energy to economics.
(2) Both had a professional career in engineering as general managers: V. Pareto worked in rail transport, while C. Mereuță worked in road transport.
(3) Both began their academic careers in economics at around age 40 and produced their groundbreaking treatise in economics at 68-69 years of age.
“Correlations” – the “Paretian connexion”, as the late Professor liked to call it, can be observed from several key words. To Pareto, as the master, the crux of his interests was the income inequality between individuals and the disparity of their social positions (the theory of the elites) while Mereuță, as the disciple, studied the income inequality between companies on classified markets and, consequently, the power structures on these markets. Professor Mereuță then directed his attention towards the uneven distribution of wealth between countries on a global level. What struck him the most during his research, however, was that the “sacred” 80:20 ratio that the celebrated Pareto has discovered was actually closer to 80:10! That meant that only 10% of the existing (f)actors accounted for 80% of the wealth; this principle applied both within and between national economies!
“Causalities” – was it blasphemy or was it epiphany!? His colleagues were quite divided in endorsing such a conclusion, which was seen as shattering the hopes of having found one of the (hopelessly) few “constants of inconsistent social behaviours”. I encouraged Professor Mereuță to continue his work. There is no room for taboos in science; neither do false reverences have any place in it. The encouragement came from an economist who was fully convinced, though, that free will turns mathematics, statistics or (social) engineering into arbitrary tools if we use them to find “top-down” optimisations, even though free will sooner guides us to seek “bottom-up” optimisations (with free markets and free individuals). The key to the legacy of Professor Mereuță may lie therein: the why we need to probe and ponder in order to make sense of the how revealed by statistical analysis, with all the good and the goods it bears as well as the bad (e.g., the pandemic). Indeed, perhaps the Creator left a key to His creation, and that key may consist in numbers as well. All it takes is for us to look for it in the right places.
May God rest Professor Cezar Mereuță in peace!