Home > The Economics Profession > The Nobel family dissociates itself from the economics prize

The Nobel family dissociates itself from the economics prize

From Jorge Buzaglo

On October 11th Peter Nobel, a lawyer and descendent of Alfred Nobel, issued a statement dissociating the Nobel family from the so called Nobel prize in economics.  Below is my translation of Nobel’s statement. 

The Economics Prize in memory of Alfred Nobel should be criticised on two grounds. First, it is a deceptive utilisation of the institution of the Nobel Prize and what it represents. Second, the economics prize is biased, in the sense that it one-sidedly rewards Western economic research and theory. 

Alfred Nobel’s testament was not a hasty piece of work. It was a carefully thought out document. Also, Alfred Nobel’s letters suggest that he disliked economists.

The proposal of a Riksbank [central bank] prize “in memory of Alfred Nobel” was discussed by the Nobel Foundation on April 26, 1968. Professor Sten Friberg, rector of the Karolinska Institute, opposed the idea. The Nobel committee of the Norwegian parliament [which selects the peace prize candidate] expressed serious misgivings. But a rapid decision was expected, apparently under pressure. Why? Riksbanken’s chief Per Åsbrink had close contacts within the government, and for the Nobel Foundation it was vitally important to conserve its tax privileges.

What was the position of the Nobel family? Three days before the meeting of April 26, the then director of the Nobel Foundation, Nils Ståhle, met two members of the family and telephonically talked with a third one. Their position was that “it should not become like a sixth Nobel Prize”, but that if the economics prize could be kept clearly separate from the Nobel Prizes then it might be an acceptable idea. On May 10, Ståhle and the president of the Nobel Foundation, von Euler, visited the family’s eldest, Martha Nobel, then 87 years old — with severely impaired hearing but intellectually in good form. They obtained her written approval of the economics prize “under given conditions,” namely that the new prize in all official documents and statements should be kept separated from the Nobel prize, and called the “prize in economic science in memory of Alfred Nobel.”

In a telephonic conversation with a nephew, Martha Nobel said that the whole thing was prearranged and impossible to oppose, so that one could only hope that they would keep their pledge that no confusion with the real Noble prize should occur. There was no approval from the Nobel family as a whole. We were informed only much later.

What has happened is an unparalleled example of successful trademark infringement. However, nobody in the world can prevent journalists, economists and the general public from talking about the “Nobel prize in economics,” with all its connotations. That is why, in the name of decency and in order to honour Alfred Nobel’s memory, this bank prize in his memory should be given on a different occasion than the Nobel day [a day of  ceremonies headed by the king].

With no knowledge of economics, I have no opinions about the individual economics prize winners. But something must be wrong when all economics prizes except two were given to Western economists, whose research and conclusions are based on the course of events there, and under their influence. I can imagine Alfred Nobel’s sarcastic comments if he were able to hear about these prize winners. Above all else, he wanted his prizes to go to those who have been most beneficial to humankind, all of humankind!

  1. Nick Gomersall
    October 22, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    Thanks for this, Jorge. Could we have a reference to the source?

  2. October 22, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    I would like to add that the so-called “Nobel prize in economics” has been given always not only to western Economists, but also with few exceptions (such as Myrdal and Sen…), it has been given only to Neo-clasical economists. If the prize is supposed to be given as a “prize in economic science” to those who have been most beneficial to humankind, one may wonder whether :
    1. Neo-classical economics can be regarded as “economic science” or science fiction as it is based on so many hypothetical assumptions.
    2. Is it beneficial to “humankind”; social issues are not the concern of their theory.

    I would also like to refer the reader to the previous note by Peter Radford”: Neo-classical economics is specific not only in ‘scientific’ [read in science fiction] but also in ‘ideological’ terms. Does the ideology behind this theory fovour “benefit to humankind”

  3. October 22, 2010 at 3:45 pm

    As an old Norwegian I am ashamed of what has happened to the Nobel Peace prize which was awarded by a committee in Oslo to someone who underwrites the murder of innocent civilians: Barack Obama. Also, this year’s prize was given to a political dissident in China, with the clear objective of embarrassing the Chinese government. In other words, the awarding of Nobel prizes is being used for political stunt purposes. No wonder the Nobel family is publicly distancing itself
    from such practices.

  4. Marlene Newesri
    October 23, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    I must also add a comment about the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Obama. I personally wrote to the Nobel Committee giving them my reasons why Obama did not deserve the peace prize and also supplying documentation to support my contentions that his position has been one of pure hypocrisy. If the Committee wished to retain any credibility, it needed to rescind that prize. The Committee never even responded to me. Henceforth, for me, it is the “Unnoble” Peace Prize Committee.

  5. Johannes Bechtel
    October 24, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    Dear Helge, where did the Nobel family distance from the “practices” concerning the Peace Nobel Prize?

  6. Q Kirmani
    December 29, 2010 at 11:16 am

    Quick thought in response to M.Shafaeddin above…

    Just because Neoclassical Economics is based on lots of unrealistic assumptions, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the models it generates are not valid or useful.

    The trouble arises in how insights from neoclassical models are applied in the real-world. When economists and policymakers treat certain models as gospel, that’s a problem.

    Also, didn’t Elinor Ostrom win the thing just last year? She’s not exactly neoclassical. Just saying.

  7. Mehdi Shafaeddin
    May 31, 2011 at 4:24 pm

    I am surprise by the comment by Q Kirmani. If he agrees that the model is is based on unrealistic assumptions, how can it be applied to the real world!!. it is useful only as a science fiction.

    • Paul Schächterle
      October 16, 2012 at 5:54 pm

      It amazes me how neoclassical economists can get away with drawing conclusions for reality from assumptions which are not applicable in reality. That is simply defying logic itself and therefore is no longer science.

  8. Georg R. Baumann
    June 1, 2011 at 10:55 am

    I think both of you, Mehdi as well as Q hit the nail here.

    It is the promotion of a select set of models which are based on unrealistic assumptions and excluding social issues, as if they are the 10 commandments. It is here where ideological fatalism comes into play, and the promotion of a select set of models is no coincidence, of course not!

    The real world example for the system at work here was the story of the Nobel Prize accompanied story of Long Term Capital Management, was it not?

  9. Alice
    June 1, 2011 at 11:11 am

    Oh dear…now I understand. the Nobel prize has been hijacked. Why am I surprised? So has ethics in economics and the fate of all humankind (in favour of the fate of banks where so economists advance their careers).

  10. Paul Schächterle
    October 16, 2012 at 5:59 pm

    On the subject “Nobel Prize” of economics I also recommend the following blog entry with video interview with Philip Mirowsky who is conducting research on the role of the prize:
    “Why Is There a Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics?”

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