Home > The Economics Profession > Self-righteous drivel from the chairman of the Nobel prize committee

Self-righteous drivel from the chairman of the Nobel prize committee

from Lars Syll

The 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 is presented in Stockholm at an annual ceremony on December 10.

As of 2012 the prize has been given to 71 individuals. Of all laureates, 56 have been (by birth or by naturalisation) US citizens — that is: 79 % The University of Chicago has had 26 affiliated laureates — that is 37 % Only 5 laureates have come from outside North America or Western Europe — that is: 7 % Only 1 woman has got the prize — that is: 1.4 %

The world is really a small place when it comes to economics …

But that kind of facts doesn’t seem to bother Per Krusell  — the chairman of The Economic Sciences Prize Committee at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (responsible for the selection of candidates for  The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel) — who today, in the leading Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter, vehemently tries to defend the prize, saying that critiques — coming from people like yours truly and others —  are “politicized and trivial,” “naive” and “without respect” for the “important steps forward” in answering “important questions” that the prized economists have contributed.

This is indeed one of the most viciously misleading articles — even coming from a leading Swedish neoclassical übereconomist — I’ve read in years!

In a  post last year yours truly wrote about the decision of The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences  to award The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel for 2012 to Alvin Roth and Lloyd Shapley. I complained that the prize committee once again confirmed that neoclassical economic theory today basically is in the story-telling business whereby economic theorists create make-believe analogue mathematical models of the real economic system.

This year — 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 (besides Lars Peter Hansen and Robert Shiller) 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!

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  1. Bruce E. Woych
    December 23, 2013 at 4:20 pm | #1

    “…critics argue that the prestige of the Prize in Economics derives in part from its association with the Nobel Prizes, an association that has often been a source of controversy. Among them is the Swedish human rights lawyer Peter Nobel, a great-grandson of Ludvig Nobel.[26] Nobel criticizes the awarding institution of misusing his family’s name, and states that no member of the Nobel family has ever had the intention of establishing a prize in economics.[27]”
    excerpted from:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nobel_Memorial_Prize_in_Economic_Sciences

    (26) ^ “Nobel descendant slams Economics prize”.
    The Local. 28 September 2005. Retrieved 31 August 2007.

    (27) ^ Alfred Nobels familie tar avstand fra økonomiprisen – Aftenposten

  2. sergio
    December 23, 2013 at 6:44 pm | #2

    I wish I knew why socialist Sweden promotes neoliberalism?

  3. December 23, 2013 at 7:18 pm | #3

    Fred Harrison predicted it accurately. But it is very simple. If the income from an asset is not sufficient to service the debt charges for the credit used to purchase an asset, then the asset price is in a bubble condition.

    Please can I have the next Nobel prize?

    • sergio
      December 23, 2013 at 7:28 pm | #4

      The would give you a prize if you could scientifically discover that free market is the only perfect mechanism and government intervention is only bad. Friedman, Hayek, Fama, most of prize winners could do it. Please remember that they DO NOT give prize for “discovery” that free market is not perfect mechanism.

      I can predict 100% accurately – free market is NOT perfect economic mechanism. Because our reality is not perfect. Humans are not perfect. Please can I have the next Nobel prize? Of course, NO.

      • December 24, 2013 at 1:53 pm | #5

        speak for yourself. maybe i’m not human, but i’m perfect. (so long as i dont get beat up), dont like fama at all tho EMH is mathematically interesting.

  4. Paul Davidson
    December 23, 2013 at 8:28 pm | #6

    What is so suprising that neoclassical economics dominates is prize?. It is my understanding that former winners of the Nobel Prize in economics are requested to nominate who they think should be the next winner(s), Also the president of the American economic association is askedtoo suggest someone..

    With Chicago dominating previous prize winners, it is suprising that other Chicago types are placed high up in nominating and therefore being elected?

  5. mcdruid
    December 23, 2013 at 10:15 pm | #7

    Is Fama saying that EMH makes verifiable predictions? I swear I once read him say that his theory was non-falsifiable.

    • December 24, 2013 at 1:54 pm | #8

      EMH is non falsifiable—its a tautology.

    • Nell
      December 24, 2013 at 5:11 pm | #9

      Which makes it pretty much useless and definitely not science.

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