Memo to the Royal Swedish Academy

Behavioral economist Richard Thaler was awarded this year’s “Nobel Prize” in economics. But with all due respect, the Swedes got it wrong. If the selection criterion for winning a Nobel in economics these days is going to be original work integrating human psychology into economics (or “how human traits systematically affect individual decisions as well as market outcomes,” to quote the Royal Swedish Academy’s press release), isn’t economist John List far more deserving of this award? True, Thaler may have marginally pushed the pioneering work of Amos Tversky and Danny Kahneman further by actually testing economic theory in laboratory settings, but it was List who figured out creative ways of testing these lab tests themselves! Unlike Thaler and company, who conduct their economic experiments on North American undergrads in artifical environments and for small stakes (coffee mugs and chump change), Prof List has pioneered the use of field experiments in which ordinary people (not just undergrads) play for real stakes. Maybe next year …

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