The Nobel Prize in Economics

By the time you read this, the Nobel Prize in economics will likely have been awarded, though as I write this, the winners have yet to be announced.

A few random thoughts:

1) I guarantee you that the economist(s) who win it will be much better sports than Doris Lessing, who seemed put off that the award had disturbed her daily routine. Every economist is dying to win the Nobel.

2) There is always great uncertainty about who will win it. Partly, that is because it’s hard to say which economic contributions have been most influential. Mostly, though, it is because the committee faces a difficult dynamic optimization problem: economists are only eligible if they are alive. That pushes the committee towards awarding it to older economists who might die soon. On the other hand, the fact that they are old and haven’t won yet means that they may not be as strong a candidate as some of the younger economists. As such, there is never an obvious winner — there are always many marginal candidates — among the good very old economists and the great but not quite as old economists. Note how different this process is from the John Bates Clark Medal, where it is always pretty obvious that there are a small set of serious contenders because of the fixed age cutoff.

3) There are hundreds of economists who have their calendar cleared for the next few weeks, just in case they win. Many of these economists have no chance whatsoever of winning.

4) Both Ladbrokes and InTrade allow betting on who will win the Economics Nobel Prize. This is crazy. Nobody cares about this except economists, and hardly any economists gamble! Only a few hundred dollars were put at risk in the InTrade market. Robert Barro, Gene Fama, Paul Romer, and Peter Diamond are the favorites according to that market. Any of those would be good choices. I think Oliver Hart would be a likely choice as well. Greg Mankiw adds Martin Feldstein to the list.

Some commenters at Mankiw’s site think it will be Stephen Dubner. If Dubner wins, I hope he will let me be part of his entourage.


Gene Grossman, Paul Romer, and Elhanan Helpman will co-win.


"There are hundreds of economists who have their calendar cleared off for the next few weeks just in case they are the winner. Many of these economists have no chance whatsoever of winning."

It doesn't seem worth the trouble to clear off your schedule. If you win, then you can just use that as an excuse to not go to things in the next few weeks -- after all, you won the Nobel Prize, who's going to argue? And if you lose, but you've cleared off your schedule, then you get to sit around for a few weeks feeling like an idiot.


I've cleared off my calendar for the next few weeks just in case I win. It's my way of showing solidarity with all you smart economist types.

Well, that, and I'm also an unemployed, stay-at-home dad. It wasn't so much a "clearing" as a "leaving empty."


If I were in the running for the Nobel Prize, I would make extra plans for the next few weeks. That way if I win I get to call everyone I know and say "Sorry, I can't make it to Joshua's bar mitzvah. I won the Nobel Prize." If I lost, I would at least be busy, keeping my mind off losing.

Zachary Pruckowski

I hope Stephen Dubner does win - even if his is not the most "groundbreaking" work, he has done a lot to expand the boundaries of economics (into the traditionally mundane) and also to bring it into the public mindset


I would think that economists would want to get in on that gambling action. The economic reason for not betting normally would be that the house takes a cut, which would put the better at a statistical disadvantage. However, I would think that the "inside knowledge" of likely winners for economists might be greater than that of the typical bettor [sic?] in such online gambling marketplaces (since one would assume that it would not be filled with other ecomonists). And that advantage would overcome the decrease in odds taken by the house.

I see this constantly in my not-real-money online betting site NewsFutures. In nearly all markets, my chance of winning doesn't seem any better than chance. (Though I'm sure that there are bettors who win quite often in those specialty markets.) However, in one particular market, I win 95% of the time due to "inside" knowledge of the market. Furthermore, I'm often the only person buying bets on the one side, allowing me to take the entire "pot".

However, I'm not comfortable enough to try the same thing on a real-money betting site where I imagine the markets will be much more "fair".


Jeremy E

So, I take your calendar is clear for the next few weeks?


Correct me if I'm wrong, but SJD is a journalist as far as we know. I know Wikipedia listed him as an economist, but that's incorrect. He would be rightly indignant to be known as an economist rather than a journalist.

scott Cunningham

Zachary - Dubner's not an economist. He's the coauthor of a book that took another economist's academic writings and made it readable to non-economists. You don't get Nobel Prizes for that, no matter how groundbreaking the original work is or was. Dubner winning the Nobel Prize for economics would sort of be like Russell Crowe winning the Nobel Prize for economics.

Alex Roberts

I stopped taking thewarding of the Nobel Prize in economics seriously years ago, when the great John Kenneth Galbraith was snubbed; while non-economist pure mathematicians like John Nash were being awarded "economics" Nobels.

Mike Palmer

I hope Dubner wins too. For far too long the winners of this prize have been dominated by economists. It's about time for a non-economist to have a chance!


As much as I love the book & this blog & admire Levitt's research, I hope tha Paul Krugman wins.
Because it would be sticking it to the wing-nuts a second time this week!


do you mean the Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobe?

Unlike the physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and peace prizes, a prize for economics was never requested by Alfred Nobel in his will. The award was established some 70 years after his death by the Bank of Sweden on its 300th anniversary in 1968.

I was told this a few years back by one of my professors, and he also said Nobel was once asked why their was no prize for economics, and nobel went on a rant about how economists are used by those who are in charge to suppress the people or something. (cant find anything about this)


Hi Steve,
I hope Oliver Hart gets it, if only so I can brag that my former thesis advisor is a Nobel Laurate...

Justin, you'll just have to get over the fact that we economists have what is popularly referred to as a Nobel prize. It's an important, interesting and vital field of study.

PS: It sounds like the inventor of dynamite had a short fuse!

Stanford Man

40:1 on Paul Milgrom seems like a really good deal.
I'm putting 50 bucks on that.


Well, not everyone wants the Nobel. In Feynman's biography he didn't seem too excited about becoming "Nobel Prize Winner, Richard Feynman" and having a bunch of pomp and ceremony overshadow his actual achievements.


A little unfair to Doris Lessing. I do not remember her exact age but I think "advanced" might be generous. I'm sure she is quite pleased (I believe the NY Times article mentioned that she had been shortlisted for so many years that she was just glad to get it before she died). Age brings pain and infirmities that are best not judged before one gets there.


My money is on Al Gore for winning the economist prize. Yes, you read right. Al Gore.

Studying economic models and coming up with new theories is his passion. That saving the world thing from global warming is only a hobby.

I have a joke.

If an economist wins the Nobel Prize and no one gives a hoot, did he really win? It depends. Is his name Al Gore.

(I didn't say it was great)

doesn't matter

I suspect that the blog is trying to grab extra hits as of late with its entry titles. Labeling an article about "swag" as an article about "schwag" pulls the occasional reader in because we feel that we might get some insight on some new developing paper on the market for marijuana.

Now I open up my computer looking to see if the Nobel has been announced (I always mess up European time) and I get an RSS title reading The Nobel Prize in Economics and it is a preemptive analysis of response to the awarding this year, and not an announcement of the winner with analysis.

I feel the authors are too clever for these titles to be an accident. However, I may just be paranoid which would be consistent with my current pattern of behavior (coming online at 3:40 to check about prizes and posting for the first time on a blog I enjoy with a conspiracy-esque idea).


In other years A Princeton psychologist (Daniel Kahneman) won the Nobel Prize in economics as did a a Princeton mathematician (John Mash) so Steven Dubner should be allowed to win.