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They Should Have Gotten the Prize

Which economists alive when the Nobel Prize in Economic Science was launched (1969) but who are now dead and who never received the Prize were most deserving to receive it?

Here’s my list. It’s unabashedly biased and admittedly pointless. But it’s satisfying to construct. I offer my list in alphabetical order.

Peter Bauer – His work on development economics remains unappreciated by too many in the economics profession and among policy-makers. Bauer documented repeatedly, but always clearly and from different angles, the utter failure of government-to-government aid. He also explained clearly just why such “aid” is a curse to the ordinary people of developing countries. He was an intellectual giant.

Frank Knight – His Risk, Uncertainty, and Profit is difficult and poorly organized; it’s also deeply profound. In addition to identifying the important distinction between calculable risk and incalculable uncertainty, he also showed clearly the logical foundations of the theory of perfect competition. And he understood far better than most economists who have taught this model that it is a rarified abstraction that is neither descriptive nor prescriptive.

Fritz Machlup – His contributions to the pure theory of international trade, international finance, industrial organization, and methodology are important. (His article “The Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness” ought to be a must-read for every practicing economists.) He was also a pioneer in the economics of knowledge. And he was a master teacher.

Ludwig von Mises – His book Socialism was pioneering. He saw, with a depth and breadth of vision achieved by precious few economists on any subject, just what the problem is with central planning. The list of his students, formal and informal, is alone impressive enough to have justified awarding this great scholar the Prize; these students include F. A. Hayek, Fritz Machlup, and Israel Kirzner.

Oskar Morgenstern – His innovative introduction of game theory into economics is simply too important to overlook. His careful explanation of the pitfalls of using data is justifiably still celebrated.

Joan Robinson – Her Economics of Imperfect Competition, while not without many flaws, had an impact on the economics profession too great to ignore.

Julian Simon – I predict, and I certainly hope, that the next hundred years will increasingly reveal this man to have been far ahead of his time. His idea of human creativity as the ultimate resource is – well, I can’t find an appropriate word to describe how very important I believe this insight to be. Also, his intrepid use of empirical evidence is inspiring. One of the most imaginative scholars of the last third of the 20th century, he was a man of unbounded energy and unquestionable integrity.
A few names might be conspicuous by their absence from my list. I thought of putting Lionel Robbins on the list, but apart from his outstanding Nature and Significance of Economic Science, I can’t really identify any vital, Prize-worthy achievements – unless you count his role in bringing Hayek to the LSE. Another name left off is Abba Lerner. His Economics of Control is useful, but Lerner’s instincts as an economist were, in my view, rather questionable.


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