Nobel economics, curiosity and controversy over the prize awarded by the Bank of Sweden

Nobel economics, curiosity and controversy over the prize awarded by the Bank of Sweden

“He has greatly improved our understanding of the role of banks in the economy, especially during the financial crisis. An important takeaway from his research is why it is important to avoid bank meltdowns”: Ben S. Bernanke, Douglas W. Diamond and Philip H. Dybwig He won the 54th edition Most prestigious award by economists around the world. almost. The importance of this institution is directly proportional to its ability to attract controversy, criticism and distance. In more than half a century of existence it has been questioned many times and not only for its academic implications. It was first criticized by Alfred Nobel’s own family.

not a nobel like the others

It looks like a Nobel, but it isn’t. The form is the same: there is no difference in the selection process and the amount established. In substance, however, much changes, starting with the date of birth: age-wise, the Nobel laureate in economics is decidedly younger than the others. In fact, economics was not in the original list of subjects and fields chosen by Nobel to award the prize. Its origins must be sought elsewhere, in the initiative of Sveriges Riksbank, which established a prize in economic science in 1968 in memory of the Swedish chemist and philanthropist. Nobel’s family has repeatedly pointed out that the prize does not respect the creator’s wishes, as evidenced by the lack of allusion to this effect in his will. The practical aspect of the award ceremony also reflects the recognition’s inconsistency: the money awarded to the laureates does not come from the coffers of the Nobel Foundation, but is allocated by the Bank of Sweden itself.

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The controversies that accompanied the birth of the award have not subsided over the years. In particular, there was a real furore around the 1976 prize because of the relationship between Milton Friedman, the winner of that edition, and the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. In the 1990s, new centers of criticism sprang up. In 1992, Gary Baker, who was awarded for having extended microeconomic analysis to a wide range of behaviours, was singled out as a proponent of sexist theories and deemed ineligible for a prize aimed at those To give prestige to people who are committed to bringing “the greatest benefit to mankind”. And John Nash, the star of the well-known film, was not spared either. a beautiful Mind. was a mathematician accused of anti-Semitism.

battle of attrition

And so the list can go on and on. The most erudite criticism has certainly been made by Friedrich von Hayek who, although he had won the prize, did not hesitate to announce that it should be rescinded, listing himself in favor of abolition. He feared that the Nobel Prize would contribute to the creation of infallible intellectual “gurus” of the economy, a drift, dangerous in his opinion. Gunnar Myrdal, who was also an assignee in the same year, even called the economy unsuitable. Placing economic science on the same level as the others, according to the scholar, did not take into account the nature of the discipline: “soft” and therefore not comparable to physics and chemistry, judged as “hard sciences”.

a “male” award

Suspicion then widened to the ideological orientation of the jury, which, according to many experts, would only award the “mainstream”. Records claimed by some institutions as to who has the greatest number of wins would be evidence of this imbalance. It will also be difficult to find women in the golden register of award winners. A quick search reveals that only two economists have been awarded the prize in 54 editions. Esther Duflo was the second scholar to be honored in 2019. The only one before her was Elinor Ostrom in 2009, who broke the glass ceiling after 40 years of male hegemony.

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