Sunday, October 08, 2006

Are there Too Few Prizes in Academic Economics? A Suggestion for Inflating Beyond the Nobel Prize and the Clark Medal

Academic economics has a prize for older guys (the Nobel) and a prize for young people (the Clark Medal) and nothing for the middle aged. Paul Samuelson won the nobel prize at the tender age of 54 but most winners are much older. The Clark medal goes to a star under the age of 40. How can a field that celebrates "complete markets" have such a sparse "prize" space?

I know that there are other prizes out there such as the Northwestern transfer of cash (Niemer Prize?) to University of chicago economists and the IZA labor prize. But when I look at the landscape, I see a "shortage" of prizes.

We know that there are many tenured economists at top 20 economics departments who sharply reduce their academic effort after they reach the age of 40. Consulting pays quite well. Perhaps others put more effort into their teaching?!

Would these highly talented people try harder in pushing the frontier of economic science forward if we had more prizes?

I could imagine a couple of different ways to do this. I don't believe in "fields" in economics so I wouldn't have a "field specific" prize. People could compete by birth cohort. So, I would compete against other economists born in 1966. People could compete against other people with a PHD from their same institution.

Who would judge who the winner would be? We delegate the task for the Nobel to the Swedes. I would pay the last 3 Clark Medal Winners to form a panel of experts to make these decisions.

In other academic areas such as biological research, one can become a billionare if one discovers something valuable. Academic economists don't have such possibilities. Prize pursuit might provide some motiviation for middle aged researchers to stay in the game and keep trying rather than worrying that their next paper will lower their overall average quality of their stock of papers.

Would this proliferation of prizes "cheapen" the Nobel and the Clark medal? It is possible but my proposal would increase academic labor supply especially among those who think that they are at the margin of winning these prizes.