Americans top the list of favourites for Monday’s Nobel Economics Prize, an award that increasingly rarely seems to go to a European.
The European Union was handed this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, but it seems unlikely that the continent will be home to the winner of the economics prize, which wraps up this year’s Nobel season.
Among the names mentioned in economic circles are Americans Robert Shiller, who studies behavioural finance and the erratic movement of markets, Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart, who specialise in public debt, and other topics that make the headlines less frequently, such as Paul Romer’s work on different types of growth.
Of those topping a list compiled by the US Federal Reserve Bank of the world’s most quoted economics researchers, only a handful of names are European.
Olivier Blanchard, a 63 year-old Frenchman who ranks eighth on the list, is seen as having little chance of winning the prize as he is currently the chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, a role deemed too political by many to make him a viable candidate.
His compatriot Jean Tirole, from the Toulouse School of Economics, at number 11, is the highest placed out of those affiliated with a European university, but at 59 years of age he is considered too young.
British Cypriot Christopher Pissarides, joint laureate in 2010 with two Americans, is the last European to have won, and the first academic from a European institution to be recognised since 1996.
“I was myself shocked. I was not aware of it,” he wrote in an email to AFP.
Before him, there was Norwegian Finn Kydland in 2004, whose entire academic career was in the United States.
Asked about the list by AFP, he joked: “I believe I’m from the country with the highest number of economics Nobels per capita in the world. Why aren’t the Americans, for example, doing even nearly as well?”
The past 10 years’ 20 laureates and co-laureates include 17 Americans, of whom two are Israeli-Americans.
The Nobel jury’s deliberations are shrouded in mystery and kept secret for 50 years, so it is difficult to know how the committee is thinking.
Unlike the other Nobel prizes which have been handed out since 1901, the Bank of Sweden’s prize for economic sciences in memory of Alfred Nobel — which wasn’t part of Alfred Nobel’s will that created the awards — was only given out for the first time in 1969.
In its first 20 years, the prize was marked by European-American rivalry. But since 1990, the Americans have taken the lead.
Today the economics prize is sometimes seen as a competition for a small group of American elite universities: Chicago, Columbia, Princeton, Harvard and MIT.
The University of Zurich’s Bruno Frey, co-author of a 1993 study titled “American and European Economics and Economists”, argues that the “Europeans are imitating the Americans too much.”
“In Europe we have too few original ideas, we’re constantly looking at what comes from the US. That doesn’t help get Nobel prizes,” he told AFP.
Another theory is that the Americans have benefited from a Swedish fascination with the liberal theories of the University of Chicago. With 10 laureates, the university holds a record number of Nobel economics prizes.
Olof Somell, who is responsible for the economy prize at Stockholm’s Nobel Museum, refuted that idea: “The members of the Nobel Committee are chosen to represent a broad spectrum of economic sciences.”
It’s “impossible to answer simply the question of why” Europe has been in decline, he said. “But of course it has to do with the domination of US research in economic sciences. There is more research in the US than there is in Europe.”
Robert Bergqvist, formerly of the Swedish central bank and today chief economist at bank SEB, pointed out that to get out of its financial and economic predicament, Europe could use some of the research by leading Nobel prize candidates, European or not.
“How can you prevent imbalances from building up in the system? How can economic policy respond to that?” are the questions that European researchers may want to look at, he argued