The Nobel prize in economics is a disgrace. Dump it!

11 Oct, 2015 at 23:30 | Posted in Economics | 4 Comments

Nobel Prize medalThe Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, usually — incorrectly — referred to as the Nobel Prize in Economics, is an award for outstanding contributions to the field of economics. The Prize in Economics was established and endowed by Sweden’s central bank Sveriges Riksbank in 1968 on the occasion of the bank’s 300th anniversary.The first award was given in 1969. The award this year is presented in Stockholm at a ceremony tomorrow.

Out of the 75 laureates that have been awarded “The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel,” 28 have been affiliated to The University of Chicago — that is 37 %. Of all laureates, 80% have been from the US (by birth or by naturalisation). Only 7% of the laureates have come from outside North America or Western Europe. Only 1 woman has got the prize. The world is really a small place when it comes to economics …

Looking at whom the prize is given to, says quite a lot about what kind of prize this is. But looking at whom the prize is not given to, says perhaps even more.

The great Romanian-American mathematical statistician and economist Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen (1906-1994) argued in his epochal The Entropy Law and the Economic Process (1971) that the economy was actually a giant thermodynamic system in which entropy increases inexorably and our material basis disappears. If we choose to continue to produce with the techniques we have developed, then our society and earth will disappear faster than if we introduce small-scale production, resource-saving technologies and limited consumption.

Following Georgescu-Roegen, ecological economists have argued that industrial society inevitably leads to increased environmental pollution, energy crisis and an unsustainable growth.

Georgescu-Roegen and ecological economics have turned against the neoclassical theory’s obsession with purely monetary factors. The monetary reductionism easily makes you ignore other factors having a bearing on human interaction with the environment.

I wonder if this isn’t the crux of the matter. To assert such a thing really is to swear in the neoclassical establishment church and nullifies any chances of getting the prestigious prize.

Twenty years ago, after a radio debate with one of the members of the prize committee, I asked why Georgescu-Roegen hadn’t got the prize. The answer was – mirabile dictu – that he “never founded a school.” I was surprised, to say the least, and wondered if he possibly had heard of the environmental movement. Well, he had — but it was “the wrong kind of school”! Can it be stated much clearer than this what it’s all about? If you haven’t worked within the mainstream neoclassical paradigm — then you are more or less excluded a priori from being eligible for the The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel!

Two years ago — making an extraordinarily successful forecast — I told Swedish media the prize committee would show how in tune with the times it was and award the prize to Eugene Fama. Why? Well — I argued — he’s a Chicago economist and a champion of rational expectations and efficient markets. And nowadays freshwater economists seem to be the next to the only ones eligible for the prize. And, of course, an economist who has described the notion that finance theory was at fault as “a fantasy” and argued that “financial markets and financial institutions were casualties rather than causes of the recession” had to appeal to a prize committee with a history of awarding theories and economists totally lacking any real world relevance.

Well, my forecast turned out to be right — the Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel for 2013 to Eugene Fame. The prize committee really did show how in tune with the times it was …

I love to be right of course, but otherwise this is only saddening and shows what a joke this prize is, when someone like Fama can get it. Maybe I’m not showing proper “respect” for Fama’s “important steps forward”, but, really, how could one after reading the following interview with Nobel laureate Fama?

Many people would argue that, in this case, the inefficiency was primarily in the credit markets, not the stock market—that there was a credit bubble that inflated and ultimately burst.

Eugene Fama: I don’t even know what that means. People who get credit have to get it from somewhere. Does a credit bubble mean that people save too much during that period? I don’t know what a credit bubble means. I don’t even know what a bubble means. These words have become popular. I don’t think they have any meaning.

I guess most people would define a bubble as an extended period during which asset prices depart quite significantly from economic fundamentals.

Eugene Fama: That’s what I would think it is, but that means that somebody must have made a lot of money betting on that, if you could identify it. It’s easy to say prices went down, it must have been a bubble, after the fact. I think most bubbles are twenty-twenty hindsight. Now after the fact you always find people who said before the fact that prices are too high. People are always saying that prices are too high. When they turn out to be right, we anoint them. When they turn out to be wrong, we ignore them. They are typically right and wrong about half the time.

Are you saying that bubbles can’t exist?

Eugene Fama: They have to be predictable phenomena. I don’t think any of this was particularly predictable.

John Cassidy

So, without any respect whatsoever, I say once again — Dump the prize!

(Added October 17: For more on the Swedish debate on the Nobel prize see here.)


  1. “If we choose to continue to produce with the techniques we have developed, then our society and earth will disappear faster than if we introduce small-scale production, resource-saving technologies and limited consumption.”

    Professor Syll, please tell me you don’t believe this! All this time you’ve been hiding the fact that you’re a Green?
    As Frank Furedi has written on, one can be against austerity or one can be against “sustainability”, it’s one or the other. If one supports “sustainabillity” one must support austerity, and making people poorer.

    I suspect you do support this, and I find that a bit heart-breaking. You’ve completely misunderstood Keynes, if that is the case.

    The world is in a very bad state, very bad, if someone like you can believe nonsensical Green doctrine.
    I suggest Robert Skidelsky’s “How much is enough?” as an antidote.

  2. […] μεροληψίας των επιλογών (βλ. για παράδειγμα εδώ), αλλά και για άλλους λόγους, εκ πρώτης όψεως […]

  3. Time to make economics a science
    Comment on ‘The Nobel prize in economics is a disgrace. Dump it!’
    • Science does not explain everything, but non-science explains nothing.
    • Neither orthodox nor heterodox economics satisfies the scientific criteria of material and formal consistency.
    • Economists cannot explain how the economy works. The profit theory is false since Adam Smith. There is much opinion and little knowledge.
    • Opinion is the realm of political economics, knowledge is the realm of theoretical economics.
    • Political economics is scientifically worthless.
    • Theoretical economics is built upon clearly stated premises, i.e., upon a set of axioms.
    • Orthodoxy got the axiomatic foundations wrong and traditional Heterodoxy has none at all.
    • Economics is a failed science.*
    Egmont Kakarot-Handtke
    * For a new start see cross-references Paradigm shift

  4. The main function of the prize is as a demonstration of the effects of scam artists on a market. After all, the economics prize *isn’t* an actual Nobel prize, but a collection of scam artists have managed to pretend that it is and convince many people that it is. Quite a spectacular trick.

    And one which demonstrates the fundamental importance of looking at the ubiquitous presence fraud when looking at issues of economics.

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