At the annual meeting of the American Economic Association, its president announced that the Clark Medal, presented biennially to the top economist under age 40 (former winner Steve Levitt), will henceforth be given annually.
Along with other medals, this will mean that we give up to four medals each year. Sounds like a lot, but in this profession the supply of honors is very small relative to the demand (the number of economists).
The sociologists present many more per capita, and I believe that is also true in other disciplines. The more awards you give out, the less worthwhile they are to current and past winners. (One Nobelist I know has often complained about the quality of his successors, implying that their awards devalue his.) From an efficiency viewpoint, the purpose of these awards should be to maximize the incentives to produce great work.
I wonder, however, whether the elasticity of supply of effort in response to awards exceeds zero — and I frankly doubt it.
I believe that such awards only represent rents to the recipients and have no incentive effects, so that the only question about them involves the distribution of rents among potential recipients. Regardless, though, deciding upon the number of honors in an association, fraternity, university, or other organization is a tough but important question.