You see, Bhagwati and Dixit are the scholars whose work immediately preceded Krugman’s, the ones who made Krugman’s (admittedly important) contributions possible. (The NYT has a nice summary of his scholarly accomplishments)
Bhagwati was Krugman’s teacher
mentor at MIT, a scholar whose name was regularly mentioned as a likely winner of the Nobel prize in his own right. Bhagwati’s mentor was Robert Solow, who also received the Nobel in Economics in 1987. In other words, the Nobel skipped a generation in the scholarly lineage, something that must really sting.
Krugman’s main scholarly contributions have been in the area of trade theory, making him the first scholar to receive a Nobel for scholarship on International Trade in 30 years. Trade is also what Bhagwati’s scholarship is best known for, a contribution that the Swedes chose not to recognize.
Here’s a painfully embarrassing story of how Krugman’s scholarship on International Trade came to overshadow Bhagwati’s, even at an occasion celebrating Bhagwati’s contributions:
Some years ago I was at a Festschrift conference for Jagdish Bhagwati at Columbia–Paul’s teacher at MIT and himself a frequently mentioned name in connection with the Nobel prize. One of the speakers was Paul Samuelson. Now the usual drill on such occasions is to toast the man of the moment with a combination of wit and eloquence. I don’t recall if Samuelson even mentioned Bhagwati. What I recall is that Samuelson spent his whole time on a detailed exegesis of Paul’s work on trade. I should have known then that if the Nobel committee were to give another prize in international trade, it would go to Krugman. [Link]
Avinash Dixit is less well known to the general public, but his work was a critical step towards producing Krugman’s own:
Krugman …applied the Dixit-Stiglitz model to both trade and location theory … since what Krugman was most famous for was applying the Dixit-Stiglitz model to both trade and geography, and Stiglitz already got his for asymmetric information …Dixit should get it. [Link]
What’s worst for Bhagwati and Dixit is that the Nobel prize is often given to a group of scholars whose work is jointly recognized. The academy could have easily chosen to honor all three scholars together. However, having given Krugman a solo prize, it is extremely unlikely that the academy will return to honor the economists they so pointedly overlooked. As one commentator in a prominent econ blog cattily put it:
Giving the Nobel to Krugman at this time is like honoring the research assistant and ignoring the professor. If I were Dixit (or even Bhagwati), I would be screaming into my pillow. [Link]
[Said in a Darth Vader voice] Now the student has become the master (harsh breathing) …
Bhagwati was classy about the news (thanks Krugmania):
Still, his collaborators and mentors in his international trade research — some of whom were considered competing candidates for the prize — extended their praise. “Lots of people are saying to me, ‘Why didn’t you get it?’” said Jagdish Bhagwati, an economics professor at Columbia who helped Mr. Krugman publish one of his seminal papers when other academics thought it was too simple to be true. “Given the fact that I didn’t get it, this is the next best thing.” [nyt]
Related links: In Honor of Paul Krugman by Avinash Dixit