Economist who slated colleagues’ work is tipped for Nobel

Ariel Rubinstein, who says economics lacks common sense, heads list of likely winners

An economics professor who has trashed the work of his colleagues and their ability to forecast how economies will develop is one of the frontrunners for the Nobel Memorial prize for economics.

Ariel Rubinstein, who teaches game theory at Tel Aviv University and New York University, has become notorious for claiming that economics lacks common sense and too often pursues research with little application to the real world.

In his book Economic Fables he says: “The obsession with formal models helps us acquire intuitions about the way things work in real life” but adds: “I am fairly certain that if instead of dedicating my adult life to economic models, I would examine it from the perspective of a non-academic profession, I would achieve no less useful – but far less abstract – understanding.”

He is one of several economists tipped as a possible winner by Clarivate Analytics, a data provider which compiles a list of likely contenders based on academic citations.

William Brian Arthur was also named as a possible winner after his longstanding work researching how technological advances have changed the way economies operate over time.

In his book The Nature of Technology, the economics professor, who splits his time between Sante Fe Institute – a private thinktank in New Mexico – the System Sciences Lab in Palo Alto, California, and Stanford University, discusses how technology has developed, become more specialised and encouraged a monopolistic tendency among technology providers, seen today in the activities of Facebook, Google, Apple and Microsoft.

The work of Katarina Juselius, an economics professor at the University of Copenhagen, and her colleague at the same institution, Søren Johansen, has a narrower appeal.

They have gained citations for their contributions to econometrics and cointegration analysis, which helps other economists study the short and long-term effects in previously impenetrable economic data.

Clarivate said the method developed by Juselius and Johansen helped “economists avoid confirmation bias in their analyses”.

Big names in the economics world have missed out. Thomas Piketty, the French economist, has just published his follow-up to the bestselling Capital. Titled Capital and Ideology, it expands on the themes of the first book. Sales of Capital topped 2m copies but have not put him in the running, possibly because at 48 he is too young to have built up enough citations among economists.

Thomas Sowell, 89, has the track record and another bestselling book under his belt, but fails to make the cut. Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover institution, Stanford University, and his brand of laissez-faire, anti-government economics is at the opposite end of the spectrum to the leftwing Piketty.

He has followed up Economic Facts and Fallacies, and Black Rednecks and White Liberals, with a new book, Discrimination and Disparities.

Clarivate Analytics said it ranked academics by the number of citations they have gathered throughout their careers because it is “a quantitative narrative of how their discoveries have influenced their peers, the broader scientific community and the world at large”.

Last year the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which will announce the prizewinner on Monday for the Sveriges Riksbank prize in economic sciences in memory of Alfred Nobel, rewarded two economists, William Nordhaus and Paul Romer.

They were honoured for their research into two of the most “basic and pressing” economic issues of the age. Nordhaus, a Yale economist, told policymakers in the 1970s that their economic models were not properly taking account of the impact of global warming.

Romer was praised for his work on endogenous growth theory, the notion that countries can improve their underlying performance if they concentrate on supply-side measures such as research and development, innovation and skills. Moving away from classical models that rely on the private sector to boost investment, he urges governments to intervene to boost R&D and skills.


Phillip Inman

The GuardianTramp

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