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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

And the Nobel Prize in Economics Should Go To…

Two of the most creative, productive, and finest economists of the last century failed to receive the premier prize for economists.

The Nobel Prize in Economics will be announced, for 2016, this Monday. Economists during this season get giddy with predicting who will, and in opining on who should, win. Despite my conviction that the Nobel Prize in Economic Science is every bit as legitimate and justly respected as is any other Nobel Prize (even though it’s not one of the original Prizes established by Alfred Nobel himself), over the past eight or so years my interest in the Prize has diminished. This fact is due chiefly to the Nobel committee’s inexplicable failure to award the Prize to the late Armen Alchian and to my late colleague Gordon Tullock before each died having lived well into his 90s.

Two of the most creative, productive, and finest economists of the last century failed to receive the premier prize for economists.Both Alchian and Tullock were among the most creative, productive, and finest economists of the past century – indeed, of the past two centuries. Each of these men forgot more economics than at least one fifth of the Nobel laureate economists ever knew. And yet neither Alchian nor Tullock was awarded what has become the premier prize for economists.

Still, the Nobel for economists retains much significance. My emeritus colleague Vernon Smith (’02) and my late colleague Jim Buchanan (’86) were indeed worthy recipients. Of course, I believe that the same is true for Hayek. And for Friedman. And for Coase and Becker and Stigler and North and Ostrom and Williamson and Schultz and Schelling and Hicks and Modigliani and Arrow and, yes, Samuelson – and, indeed, for a number of other recipients. But I still am unable to get my head around the fact that Alchian and Tullock each was denied this Prize. It’s inexplicable. And this failure diminishes, for me at least, the luster of the Nobel in economics.

So here’s my wish: I hope, sincerely, that the 2016 Nobel Prize in Economic Science is awarded to Harold Demsetz. No living economist who is without the Prize is more worthy than Demsetz to receive it. And – at most, and all things considered – only a small handful (Baumol, Bhagwati, Harberger, Higgs, Kirzner, McCloskey, Plott, Sowell, and Yeager) are even plausibly as worthy. But among all non-Nobel-laureate living economists, none is more worthy to receive the Prize than is the 86-year-old Demsetz, whose writings on property rights, competition, industrial organization, law, and regulation are unfailingly brilliant and important and, often, downright pioneering.

Again, that is my sincere hope – although, alas, not my prediction.

This first appeared at Cafe Hayek.

  • Donald J. Boudreaux is a senior fellow with the F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, a Mercatus Center Board Member, and a professor of economics and former economics-department chair at George Mason University.