The Economics Nobel: Who Might Have Won?

The Economics Nobel: Who Might Have Won?

Timothy Taylor 11/10/2019 5

Next Monday the 51th Nobel prize in Economics will be awarded. Allen R. Sanderson and John J. Siegfried offer some perspective on the first 50 years of the economics award by providing some context with the other Nobel prizes in "The Nobel Prize in Economics Turns 50" (American Economist, 2019, 64:2, pp. 167–182). They offer background on the genesis of the prize, how its official name has evolved, academic backgrounds, and big ideas that spanned several awards.

For those interested in more detail about past Nobel prize-winners in economics, I strongly recommend the Nobel website itself. Especially for winners in the last few decades, there is rich information about why the prize was given, often with an autobiographical essay from the winner, and of course the address given by the prize-winner.

Here, I'll pass along a couple of lists from Sanderson and Siegfried. The Nobel is only given to living people, so there are inevitably some economists worthy of consideration for the prize who died after 1969 without receiving the award. I was also intrigued by their list of how many Nobel prize-winners in economics had a direct tie to a previous winner.

Here's their list of economists who were alive in 1969, but died without receiving an economics Nobel, and "who certainly would have had advocates" for winning the prize.

  1. Frank Knight (1972). One of the founders of the “Chicago School of Economics,” he is best known for his 1921 book, Risk, Uncertainty and Profit.

  2. Alvin Hansen (1975). Macroeconomist and public policy adviser, often referred to as “the American Keynes,” he is most noted for development (with Hicks) of the “investment-savings” and “liquidity preference-money supply” (IS-LM) macroeconomics model.

  3. Oskar Morgenstern (1977). Princeton economist, coauthor of Theory of Games and Economic Behavior (1944, with John von Neumann).

  4. Joan Robinson (1983). Cambridge economist known for her work on monopolistic competition (The Economics of Imperfect Competition, 1933) and coining the term monopsony.

  5. Piero Sraffa (1983). Italian economist and considered the neo-Ricardian school founder owing to his Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities (1960).

  6. Fischer Black (1995), part creator of the Black–Scholes equation on options pricing, surely would have shared the 1997 Nobel with Scholes and Merton for devising a model for the dynamics of a financial market containing derivative investment instruments.

  7. Amos Tversky (1996). A cognitive psychologist, who undoubtedly would have shared the 2002 Nobel Prize with his friend and frequent collaborator Daniel Kahneman (and Vernon Smith).

  8. Zvi Griliches (1999). A student of Schultz and Arnold Harberger at Chicago, he is best known for work on technological change (the diffusion of hybrid corn in particular) and econometrics.

  9. Sherwin Rosen (2001). Labor economist with far-ranging contributions in microeconomics, he is perhaps best known for his 1981 American Economic Review article “The Economics of Superstars,” and his 1974 Journal of Political Economy article outlining how the market solves the problem of matching buyers and sellers of multidimensional goods.

  10. John Muth (2005). Doctoral advisee of Herbert Simon, he is considered—mainly formulated on the microeconomics side—as the originator of “rational expectations” theory.

  11. John Kenneth Galbraith (2006), long-time Harvard economist, was a prolific writer (The Affluent Society (1958), The New Industrial State (1967)), public intellectual, and liberal political activist.

  12. Anna Schwartz (2012). A National Bureau of Economic Research monetary and banking scholar, she was a coauthor with Milton Friedman of A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960 (1963).

  13. Martin Shubik (2018). A doctoral advisee of Morgenstern and collaborator with Nash, at Princeton, he was a long-time Yale professor of mathematical economics and outstanding game theorist.

To this list, one could certainly add more of their contemporaries, for example (in alphabetical order), Anthony Atkinson (2017), William Baumol (2017), Harold Demsetz (2019), Evsey Domar (1997), Rudiger Dornbusch (2002), Henry Roy Forbes Harrod (1978), Harold Hotelling (1973), Nicholas Kaldor (1986), Jacob Mincer (2006), Hyman Minsky (1996), and Ludwig von Mises (1973), among many others.

Sanderson and Siegfried also point out that a substantial number Nobel laureates in economics had another laureate as a dissertation adviser, For example:

  • Jan Tinbergen was an adviser of Koopmans.
  • Paul Samuelson was an adviser for Klein and Merton.
  • Kenneth Arrow advised the research of Harsanyi, Spence, Maskin, and Myerson.
  • Wassily Leontief advised Samuelson, Schelling, Solow, and Smith.
  • Richard Stone supervised the research of both Mirrlees and Deaton.
  • Franco Modigliani was Shiller’s adviser.
  • James Tobin advised Phelps.
  • Merton Miller advised Eugene Fama’s dissertation, and Fama advised Scholes’s.
  • Robert Solow supervised the work of Diamond, Akerlof, Stiglitz, and Nordhaus.
  • Thomas Schelling was Spence’s adviser.
  • Edward Prescott advised Kydland, with whom he shared the 2004 Nobel Prize.
  • Eric Maskin advised Tirole.
  • Christopher Sims advised Hansen.
  • Simon Kuznets supervised both Friedman and Fogel.

Sanderson and Siegfried also pass along perhaps the most common joke about the economics Nobel prize:

[A]s a well-known quip has it, “economics is the only field in which two people can share a Nobel Prize for saying opposing things.” The 1972 Prizes awarded to Myrdal and Hayek spring to mind, as would the 2013 awards to Fama and Shiller.

A version of this article first appeared on Conversable Economist.

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  • Rob Powell

    None of the Nobel prize economists predicted that major banks would drive themselves into the ground in 2008-09.

  • Crystal Rivette

    Only one woman has landed the economics prize

  • Ashley Hughes

    There is a diversity issue while selecting winners

  • David Tollan

    Even a couple of its winners have suggested it be abolished.

  • Rob Burrill

    They haven't won it because they are not engaged in the problems of the actual world.

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Timothy Taylor

Global Economy Expert

Timothy Taylor is an American economist. He is managing editor of the Journal of Economic Perspectives, a quarterly academic journal produced at Macalester College and published by the American Economic Association. Taylor received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Haverford College and a master's degree in economics from Stanford University. At Stanford, he was winner of the award for excellent teaching in a large class (more than 30 students) given by the Associated Students of Stanford University. At Minnesota, he was named a Distinguished Lecturer by the Department of Economics and voted Teacher of the Year by the master's degree students at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. Taylor has been a guest speaker for groups of teachers of high school economics, visiting diplomats from eastern Europe, talk-radio shows, and community groups. From 1989 to 1997, Professor Taylor wrote an economics opinion column for the San Jose Mercury-News. He has published multiple lectures on economics through The Teaching Company. With Rudolph Penner and Isabel Sawhill, he is co-author of Updating America's Social Contract (2000), whose first chapter provided an early radical centrist perspective, "An Agenda for the Radical Middle". Taylor is also the author of The Instant Economist: Everything You Need to Know About How the Economy Works, published by the Penguin Group in 2012. The fourth edition of Taylor's Principles of Economics textbook was published by Textbook Media in 2017.


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