Why We Love to Hate Awards

Obama expressed his disappointment recently when rapper Kanye West stormed the stage at the MTV Video Music Awards to protest singer Taylor Swift‘s win of the “Best Female Video” trophy. Soon after, Obama himself was Swifted by critics who felt he was undeserving of his Nobel Prize win. This process is “not wildly out of character with how awards generally work,” writes Jonathan Chait at The New Republic. He references a study published in the Journal of Wine Economics which found that “a wine that wins one competition is no more likely to win another competition than any other wine. Which is to say, wine awards are handed out completely at random. … Yet awards [in general] provide emotional responses — gratification, victimization, schadenfreude — that make the ritual perversely compelling. Understanding that the process is fatally flawed, or even corrupt, seems to do nothing to diminish its appeal.” [%comments]

Read It!

Nice summary, but I encourage all to read the linked article.

Thorstein Veblen

I love the blog -- but I'm just curious when you guys are actually, you know, going to defend your book? All the other blogs are pointing out various fallacies, inconsistencies, and misleading statements in your chapter on global warming. You haven't defended yourselves against a single "slander".

Basically, you just went up to environmentalists and poked them in the eyes w/ your book. Now, in response, they are giving you guys nuggies and picking on you, but since you guys are defenseless, you just decide to curl up in a ball until everyone forgets about the eye-poke that set it all off?


Swifted or Wested?

Panem et Circanses

We all need to get a grip about the true (lack of) importance about awards. The Oscars and Emmys are trade shows. Baseball's Hall of Fame is a museum owned by an accountant. The Nobels are bestowed by a small group of Norwegians accountable to few if any. Tradition, and media hype, start the distortion, but ultimately we choose how much to buy into their significance. We don't have to.


Awards are generally just a reflection of the people who give them out, not of the person or thing being given the award.

In the case of Oscars, Emmies, MTV Music Awards, and other assorted Hollywood-type "awards," really what's happening is that Hollywood is congratulating itself for being ... well ... Hollywood. They're a convenient excuse for lots of parties (at which, also conveniently, they're all lavished with "gift packages" whose value can run into the tens of thousands of dollars if not more). They're also a convenient excuse for Hollywoodites to perform for each other, as if people working as performers really needed a reason to perform for each other.

I'm not sure I get the point of these awards. Most people in most professions manage to do their work just fine without doling out "awards" to each other for having done their jobs. Perhaps the folks in Hollywood are so insecure that they need the reassuring adulation of their fans and coworkers? If so, they need psychiatric help, not more Oscars.

As for the Noble Peace Prize, it's given out by a committee appointed by the Norwegian parliament. As such, it reflects Norwegian politicians' opinions and beliefs about the world. There's nothing wrong with that -- I don't mean to disparage Norwegians in particular -- but one must view the decision to give this award to Obama as a reflection of Norway's own politics and culture, not of Obama himself or anything he's done (or not, as the case may be). Reading anything more into it than that, is a fool's errand.



I may be in the minority, but I don't find awards compelling at all -- at least not this sort. Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize. Really, how much credibility did they have to lose?

Abby Tucson, AZ

Where do we get to comment on that altira thing? I played a similar game in my social service days. We were placed in groups of four with a pile of money divided among ourselves. We were given options I don't clearly recall, but ultimately, you could take from or contribute the pile. No one was allowed to speak. I saw immediatley that if we all gave to the pile, we would become the richest group, but even the Tohono O'odham in the foursome wanted to take rather than give. A lesson for socialists and capitalists. Anyone know the name of that game? I can't recall all the parameters.

I do know that when the food bank was pitching the fact they could buy $9 of food for every dollar contributed, I skipped the canned food and cut a check. I know not to miss the chance to get in on good deal. Anyone investigated enlightenned self-interest? Sort of a hybrid deal.

Eric M. Jones

The most recent right-wing rumor is that the Pope canonized President Obama.

I certainly hope it's true.


I'll bet the same top wines end up competing against each other for the top prize accross many competitions.

If I'm correct, the notion of 'completely random' goes out the window.


Is it the public goods game? Did that work?

But what's the altira thing? Where can I read about that?


The Nobel Peace prize actually rewards in the fields of peace or diplomacy.

Besides, could it just be an intended incentive for Obama to keep his electoral promises ?


a wine that wins one competition is no more likely to win another competition than any other wine. Which is to say, wine awards are handed out completely at random....

Uh ... that strike me as a pretty weak statement to post in an economics blog. After all, the pool of potential Superbowl winners (e.g., NFL teams) is vastly smaller than the pool of potential wine competition winners, yet the same team rarely wins twice in a row. Do we therefore conclude that Superbowl rings are distributed at random? Or do we conclude that the relationship between the number of (viable) competitors combined with the high standard deviation in the predictive variables leads to a lot of change at the top?

More to the point, an economics blog should evidence concern for both Type I and Type II error – that is, both the harm that can arise from making a finding as well as the harm that can come from NOT making a finding. It is easy to find fault with any selection of the “best.” But even if these efforts are imperfect, are they really worse than making no such efforts? To quote mom, “What harm?”

Each year I learn a little something about how individuals in various fields made some contribution or other thanks to the Nobel committees. Maybe they are shining a spotlight on people at random. They could eliminate such randomness by simply not making any selections at all – leaving me in a nice, uniform darkness. And this would benefit me ... how?

In seeking to avoid the trap of attaching too much significance to award ceremonies, I wonder if Chait hasn't landed in a different trap.


Steve O

I'm with #6; I don't like or watch awards show, because I don't care what the experts think is the best! That said, awards aren't worthless. The #1 song/movie/peacemaker can't be too bad, even if it isn't the actual best.