There Is No Nobel Prize in Economics
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It’s Nobel Prize season again. News reports are coming out each day sharing the name of the illustrious winner of the various categories — Science, Literature, etc. But there’s one of the prizes that’s a little different. Well, that’s putting it lightly… you see, the Nobel Prize in Economics is not a real Nobel. It wasn’t created by Alfred Nobel. It’s not even called a “Nobel Prize,” no matter what the press reports say.
The five real Nobel Prizes—physics, chemistry, literature, peace, and medicine/physiology—were set up in the will left by the dynamite magnate when he died in 1895. The economics prize is a bit different. It was created by Sweden’s Central Bank in 1969, nearly 75 years later. The award’s real name is the “Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel.” It was not established by Nobel, but supposedly in memory of Nobel. It’s a ruse and a PR trick, and I mean that literally. And it was done completely against the wishes of the Nobel family.
Sweden’s Central Bank quietly snuck it in with all the other Nobel Prizes to give free-market economics for the 1% credibility. One of the Federal Reserve banks explained it succinctly, “Few realize, especially outside of economists, that the prize in economics is not an “official” Nobel. . . . The award for economics came almost 70 years later—bootstrapped to the Nobel in 1968 as a bit of a marketing ploy to celebrate the Bank of Sweden’s 300th anniversary.” Yes, you read that right: “a marketing ploy.”
“The Economics Prize has nestled itself in and is awarded as if it were a Nobel Prize. But it’s a PR coup by economists to improve their reputation,” Nobel’s great great nephew Peter Nobel told AFP in 2005, adding that “It’s most often awarded to stock market speculators .... There is nothing to indicate that [Alfred Nobel] would have wanted such a prize.”
Members of the Nobel family are among the harshest, most persistent critics of the economics prize, and members of the family have repeatedly called for the prize to be abolished or renamed. In 2001, on the 100th anniversery of the Nobel Prizes, four family members published a letter in the Swedish paper Svenska Dagbladet, arguing that the economics prize degrades and cheapens the real Nobel Prizes. They aren’t the only ones.
Scientists never had much respect for the new economic Nobel prize. In fact, a scientist who headed Nixon’s Science Advisory Committee in 1969, was shocked to learn that economists were even allowed on stage to accept their award with the real Nobel laureates. He was incredulous: “You mean they sat on the platform with you?”
That hatred continues to simmer below the surface, and periodically breaks through and makes itself known. Most recently, in 2004, three prominent Swedish scientists and members of the Nobel committee published an open letter in a Swedish newspaper savaging the fraudulent “scientific” credentials of the Swedish Central Bank Prize in Economics. “The economics prize diminishes the value of the other Nobel prizes. If the prize is to be kept, it must be broadened in scope and be disassociated with Nobel,” they wrote in the letter, arguing that achievements of most of the economists who win the prize are so abstract and disconnected from the real world as to utterly meaningless.
The question is: Why would a prize that draws so much hatred and negativity from the scientific community be added to the Nobel roster so late in the game? And why economics?
To answer that question we have to go back to Sweden in the 1960s.