Monday, October 12, 2009
A word from die Heimat
Well, awards season wraps up---no, you trivial tart, not that awards season, the one that matters---with the Rijksbank Prize in Economics Sciences (commonly misnominated the Economics Nobel) going to Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson, the former the first woman to win the award. (Unlike the other five awards, which've been around since 1901 if memory serves, the foundation for the economics award dates back only until 1969, so it's not quite as bad as if say the Medicine or Literature prizes hadn't yet been awarded to a woman.)
It's worth a petulant mention that the two new laureates are---well, they're not exactly nowhere on the list Mankiw disseminated earlier, but it's fair to describe them thus, them each being 50-to-1 shots. That list appears to have been generated by the London equivalent of Vegas oddsmakers---ah, the English, so adorable... they with their tea to our coffee, cricket to our baseball, international awards for advancement in economic theory to our college hoops and horse races----so one should note that it's not entirely fair to hold up that list of an actual estimation of real likelihood, or indeed anything more than a diversion for fun and profit. Yet this morning, I think, an awful lot of people were looking at the list as an actual estimation of real likelihood. (By the way, read some of the comment threads these stories generated. I'm convinced from reading a few of the Planet Money comment threads that economics, more than any other topic, inspires those who know the least to shout the loudest. As a comparison to the rest of the Internet, that's saying something."
It's also worth noting that Eugene Fama was listed as the most likely winner on that gambling pink-sheet. Like, Gene Fama? The award previously seems to have been given to an interesting mix of scholars---for the really titanic works (Paul Samuelson, Ken Arrow, Akerlof, Ronald Coase, Friedman), the odd innovation in finance (Scholes) or behavioral insight (Nash, Kahneman) or cross-disciplinary genius (Sen). There's the occasional crank thrown in, too---Lucas, Becker, Hayek---so there would have been some precedent. Still, it seems (with the luxury of hindsight, of course) preposterous to think the committee could have chosen, in the context of the present economic situation, a theorist whose major contribution has always been employed in the defense of the proposition that less economic regulation is necessary. (And I mean always has so been employed.) The committees are supposed to be insulated from fits of populist sentiment (umm... heh, funny story about the peace prize this year...), but for them to have endorsed the efficient markets' hypothesis now, you'd be talking about levels of insulation not so much on the "domestic residence in Nome, Alaska" level and more on the one of "personal apparatus appropriate for extravehicular space walk" variety.
And indeed it seems the committee did pick, at least in Ostrom, a scholar whose work shines a little brighter in the present situation, looks a little more prescient. Prof. Ostrom is, in addition to the first woman, also not an economist but a political scientist, although her work on commons' theory fits into what is sometimes called political economy. Now, I have a fair bit of training in some of these areas and I'd never heard her name, nor do I recognize any of what Wikipedia calls her notable works; one expects that had they thought to do this a decade ago, or were there no rule against posthumous awards, it'd be Garrett Hardin receiving the honor.
But I'm sure it's well deserved, and congrats to both the new laureates.