by Michael Roberts
Can you believe it: the first Nobel prize in economics was sold
at auction last week? Like the science, peace and literature prizes, the
economics prize is awarded for making an important advance in human
understanding or harmony. But when you look at the list of economics
winners, you may wonder whether there has been any winning economist who
deserves that accolade (Milton Friedman, Gary Becker, Robert Lucas,
Eugene Fama). Some of them have actually set economics back, not
forward. Maybe it is not accident that the economics prize is not funded
or chosen by Norway’s Nobel Foundation but by the Swedish Riksbank, the
But then if you look at some of the winners of Peace prize, things
are not much better (Henry Kissinger, Menachim Begin, Mother Teresa, FW
de Klerk, Shimon Peres, Barack Obama (after less than one year), and the
European Union (?)).
Anyway, last week, the first Nobel Prize in economics to go for
auction sold for $390,848. That’s more than for prizes in physics, but
far from the million-plus payouts for prizes for medicine or peace.
It was the prize awarded Simon Kuznets in 1971 that sold. Kuznets is
known as the author of the gross domestic product measurement that now
serves as the key benchmark for the size and growth of economies
worldwide. He’s also famous for the Kuznets Curve, which suggests that
as a country’s level of economic development increases, inequality
initially rises but then falls. This latter conclusion has been disputed
by Thomas Piketty and others in their recent works (see my post, https://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2011/10/21/1-versus-99/).
The price for the Kuznets prize was nowhere near that of Francis
Crick and James Watson‘s Nobels, which sold in 2013 and 2014 for
millions each. Their discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA puts
them among the most famous scientists of the century.
Why the difference in price for these prizes at auction: the
intrinsic value of the medal?; supply and demand?; inflation?. I leave
that for any of these eminent economists to tell us:
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