Thursday, May 11, 2006

How to Win a Nobel Prize

In today's NY Times, economist Robert Frank asks why John Kenneth Galbraith never won the Nobel prize in economics.

There is no mystery here. The simple answer is that the Nobel prize committee does not reward economists for writing books for the general public, which is what Galbraith excelled at. The prize committee also ignores many other activities that occupy economists' time, including teaching, consulting, policy advising, forecasting, editorializing, textbook writing, and blogging.

The Nobel has a narrow focus: It rewards economists for writing scholarly articles that are widely cited by other economists. (Read this paper for some evidence.) Here is a question to ponder: Is this narrow focus good for the economics profession?
  • Pro: It encourages economists to focus on the pursuit of knowledge.
  • Con: It encourages economists to be more esoteric and less practical.
In my view, both positions have an element of truth.

FYI, if you want to predict future Nobel prizes in economics, here is a place to start.