The Society of Labor Economists, a professional organization, gives awards to worthy scholars. One is for lifetime achievement, the other to a scholar who finished his/her education within the past 12 years. The American Economic Association does the same thing.
Because most scholars — in economics and most sciences — do their best work while young, all these awards are really for young people’s research.
Nobel Prizes similarly reward people for work done while young. The incentives seem mixed-up:
Every young person has tremendous incentives to produce — to create a long career with fame and fortune, to establish a reputation, etc.; but where are the incentives for old people like me?
We need prizes for the best research done by scholars after they hit their 50th birthday. Scholarly organizations should offer prizes like the Academy Awards: Oscars for acting have gone to 80-year-olds (George Burns, Jessica Tandy) for work done the very year the Oscar was given.
Otherwise, given the alternatives — administration, consulting, pontificating, general laziness (and blogging?) — older scholars lack the incentives to try to produce important work. It wouldn’t hurt if this old-folks reward system were more widespread in business; it’s time to encourage more productivity from this important resource!