Nobel Prize

October 12, 2009

Big whoop.  The economist Hayek described my feelings well in his Nobel acceptance speech.  Thanks to commenter Sandre on Cafe Hayek for the link.

It is that the Nobel Prize confers on an individual an authority which in economics no man ought to possess.

This does not matter in the natural sciences. Here the influence exercised by an individual is chiefly an influence on his fellow experts; and they will soon cut him down to size if he exceeds his competence.

But the influence of the economist that mainly matters is an influence over laymen: politicians, journalists, civil servants and the public generally.

There is no reason why a man who has made a distinctive contribution to economic science should be omnicompetent on all problems of society – as the press tends to treat him till in the end he may himself be persuaded to believe.

The danger is that people view the prize for more than what it is.  It’s a prize that recognizes specific contributions made to a field, but many people view it as a sign of ascendancy to some sort of celestial position, much like the gods on Mount Olympus.  We forget that they remain fallible humans.  Rather than judging what Nobel laureates say based on the individual merits, the prize produces a halo that tends to biases us into taking what they say for granted.

If someone were to ask if that’s exactly what I’m doing by quoting from the speech of a Nobel laureate, my answer would be that I’m quoting from his speech because I agree with him, not because he’s a Nobel laureate.


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