On Monday, the Nobel Prizes season closes with the Prize for Economic Sciences. Although it is often described as the “Economics Nobel”, the official Nobel Prize website makes it clear: “The Prize in Economic Sciences is not a Nobel Prize.” What makes it different from the Nobel Prizes?
“The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel” was instituted in 1968 by Sveriges Riksbank (Sweden’s central bank). The five Nobel Prizes, on the other hand, were designated in the will of Swedish scientist Alfred Nobel, with those for Physics and Chemistry awarded by the Swedish Academy of Sciences; that for Medicine by the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm; that for Literature by the Swedish Academy in Stockholm; and that for Peace by a committee selected by the Norwegian Storting (Parliament).
The Prize in Economic Sciences is awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and according to the same principles as for the Nobel Prizes. While the five Nobel Prizes are based on a fund set up from the wealth bequeathed by Alfred Nobel, the Economic Prize is based on a donation received by the Nobel Foundation in 1968 from Sveriges Riksbank, according to the Nobel Prize website.
This difference has sometimes led to controversy. Critics of the Economics Prize include members of Alfred Nobel’s family: Peter Nobel, a human rights lawyer and a great-grandson of Alfred’s brother Ludwig, has often questioned its legitimacy. Along with three of his cousins, Peter Nobel in 2001 demanded that the Nobel name be dropped from the award. “They claim that Alfred Nobel… was highly sceptical of economics, and the existence of this award is an insult to his legacy,” The Independent reported in December 2001. The newspaper quoted then Nobel Foundation executive director Michael Sohlman as describing this as a “non-issue”, and saying: “The most important thing is to make a distinction between this economics award and the Nobel prizes.”
Nominations for the prize, which are not made public for 50 years, are received from designated individuals such as members of the Swedish Academy of Sciences; members of a Prize Committee; previous winners, and professors in relevant subjects in specified countries. The winner is chosen by a vote.
Although not a Nobel, it is recognised as the most prestigious award in the subject. It has been awarded 49 times since 1969, with Monday’s Prize the 50th. The 79 winners include one Indian (Amartya Sen in 1998) and one woman (Elinor Ostrom, 2009, shared with fellow-American Paul Krugman). The Prize has traditionally gone to senior economists, with 67 their average age.