Krugman wins Nobel, 2 desis lose it (updated)

Today, Paul Krugman won the “Nobel prize” in Economics. At the same moment, Jagdish Bhagwati and Avinash Dixit probably lost their best chance of getting one.

Bhagwati

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) …

UPDATE:

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

38 thoughts on “Krugman wins Nobel, 2 desis lose it (updated)

  1. Bhagwati is a very smart guy, but IMHO, has not advanced the ball in terms of knowledge nearly as much as Krugman. Dixit, yes, I’d thought he might get the Nobel, and now it looks less likely.

  2. Isn’t he a columnist somewhere? There is a Nobel for journalism now? Oh wait, economics is just journalism with math….

  3. In other words, the Nobel skipped a generation in the scholarly lineage, something that must really sting.

    Well, the man himself was gracious about it. From the last paragraph in the NYT article:

    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.”

  4. Considering that 40% of the John Bates Clark recipients win the Nobel (if you take in account of the average wait of 22 years by not considering the Clark medal recipients after 1986, the percentage goes up to 57.8) I think it is nobody’s case that Krugman does not deserve his prize (however shrill I may find him). This is also the chatter on those econblogs ideologically different from him.

    Is the timing interesting? During Bush’s presidency, Nobel prizes have been given to many of his critics (Carter 2002, El Baradei 2005, Gore 2007). While some Nobel committee members have denied any rebuke to Bush (Ole Danbolt Mjoes, http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,511328,00.html), some have explicitly claimed such a motivation (Gunnar Berge, ibid). Should the fact that Krugman has been given the award NOW (as opposed to a later year) be seen through such a prism? I hope not since it would call into credibility the non-partisan ship of the Economics Prize committee (all of whom are eco profs, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sveriges_Riksbank_Prize_in_Economic_Sciences_in_Memory_of_Alfred_Nobel#Economics_Prize_Committee_members)

    Interestingly the Nobel peace prize winner for 2008, Martti Ahtisaari defended the US invasion of Iraq. After the war had started, Ahtisaari gave a statement in November: “Since I know that about a million people have been killed by the government of Iraq, I do not need much those weapons of mass destruction” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martti_Ahtisaari#Post-presidential_career)

  5. A correction. Although Bhagwati, was one of his teachers, he was NOT Krugman’s mentor. Krugman’s mentor was Rudi Dornsbusch. And as noted earlier Krugman did move the ball much further along than Dixit or Bhagwati.

  6. This year 4 japanese and 1 chinese have won Nobel Prizes in the sciences, making it the best year ever for asian Nobel Laureates.

    No doubt Krugman’s stature as a prominent critic of free-market fundamentalism must have played a role in his selection for the prize, at a time when this naive republican ideology has been discredited so dramatically.

  7. @DizzyDesi:

    A correction. Although Bhagwati, was one of his teachers, he was NOT Krugman’s mentor. Krugman’s mentor was Rudi Dornsbusch. And as noted earlier Krugman did move the ball much further along than Dixit or Bhagwati.

    The link I provided argued:

    Solow was Bhagwati’s mentor, while Bhagwati had in turn been Krugman’s mentor — evidence, she said, of the influence that great teachers can have on their students.

    Is that not accurate? I know that Dornbusch was more significant … I changed it, in any case.

  8. I think it is nobody’s case that Krugman does not deserve his prize

    I’m not saying that Krugman shouldn’t not have gotten it. I’m just talking about the distributional implications involved. I’ve amended things to make it clearer. It’s a desi blog, and what I’ve highlighted is the fact that Krugman’s victory means that Bhagwati and Dixit, who could have received the prize in their own right or jointly with Krugman, are now unlikely to get it.

  9. I lean liberal and I like most of Krugman’s columns. But even I wonder if there was some political motivation for this award. As far as the Nobel peace prize, it is one of the biggest jokes out there.

  10. If one ranks the three economists – Bhagwati, Dixit and Krugman on the basis of their total impact: (i) on the economics profession, (ii) the rest of relevant academe, such as law, commerce, finance, political science, sociology, political economy (iii) the rest of the literate world, I (and I believe most knowledgeable people) would still place Krugman ahead of the other two. And this is even if it is conceded that on criterion (i), impact on economics, all three have had comparable impact (and even that is arguable, some would grant Dixit and Bhagwati their props, but still rank Krugman ahead of them).

    Of course, the Nobel Committee can only cite his direct work in economic theory. But the way nominations are solicited and ranked means that the impact on allied fields is also factored in, often indirectly; and sometimes because the solicitations come from practitioners in the allied fields as well. This is good. It is also the very nature of economics itself to have these disparate impacts. Here one could argue that Bhagwati has also written plenty of op-eds, and has had a substantial impact on policy, has worked in think tanks, written many books, and his policy impact has been on both the developed and developing world. Dixit, also blessed with power of the pen, has written for the layperson, but far less often. Still, many people would place Krugman ahead.

    Having said all that, I personally do not doubt for a minute that the Nobel Committee in this case meant to send a political message as well, timed both for the financial crisis, and the US Presidential election. That message would have been diluted, or even nullified, had they chosen the other two along with Krugman.

    There is still time enough for the Nobel Committee to recognize Bhagwati and Dixit in coming years.

  11. I had mentioned Rudi, because Krugman had credited him with giving him direction and has credited him as being his mentor. (Crucially, he was Krugman’s thesis advisor).

    Did not mean to demean Bhagwati in any way : after all Krugman is a self described SOB: Student of Bhagwati. http://www.columbia.edu/~jb38/Festschrift%2520Dinner_%2520Speech_Paul%2520Krugman.doc&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=us&client=firefox-a“> Krugman on Bhagwati (Google Cache, the original is a doc file)

  12. 16 · DizzyDesi said

    I had mentioned Rudi, because Krugman had credited him with giving him direction and has credited him as being his mentor. (Crucially, he was Krugman’s thesis advisor).

    Your correction is appreciated. I made the mistake on my own blog, now fixed. I think Ennis was pointing out that it is possible to be a mentor without being the thesis advisor (though the terms are used interchangeably – good thesis advisors should also be mentors, but sometimes are not). To that extent he was not mistaken.

    I assume Bhagwati would at least have been on Krugman’s thesis examining committee, not that the particular detail matters much given Krugman’s own fulsome acknowledgment of Bhagwati’s impact on his career.

  13. Let’s be honest guys, Krugman is not a real economist. Krugman won this award for political reasons. Krugman is a gigantic anti-Bush administration columnist and the Nobel committee had to come up with some b.s. reason to give him the Nobel when they really just wanted to recognize him for hating Bush.

    The sad fact is that Krugman’s work is not particularly academic or scholarly. Krugman is as much an economist as our friendly Indophile Thomas Friedman. Just because you can write some hogwash about trade and it’s impact on geography does not make you an economist. I can’t think of a single real economist who would ever quote Krugman in anything serious.

    This year’s Nobel is a serious farce.

  14. I first became a fan of Krugman because of his ability to elucidate complex economic concepts beautifully, and then got around to reading some of his work. I reas his econ blog on the Times quite faithfully, and his op-eds less so, because I enjoy his economics columns far more than his polemics. I have to say, though, that I am really glad he got the Nobel, because the entertainment value of comments like #4 and #18 just can’t be surpassed for love or, well, money.

  15. 18 · University of Chicago said

    “This year’s Nobel is a serious farce.”

    Why just this year’s Nobel? The Nobel (especially the Nobel for Peace and Literature) has increasingly over the past few years been given for political reasons – off the top of my head, algore, Lessing, Pinter, etc. I even like much of Pinter’s work. The Nobel committee has been choosing to make the prize winner someone who trumpets leftist causes. Who knows, maybe even SepiaMutiny or the DailyKos bloggers may soon get one?

  16. Jesus christ on a stick, krugman is a frickin real economist with extremely highly cited papers and an excellent academic reputation (he was awarded the john bates clark medal long before he started writing columns). Stop with asinine comments unless you’ve actually read his papers on trade and geography and have deep, salient criticsms (have you published them? didn’t think so, jackass). Also, the economics nobel has been awarded to many a conservative so questions of bias are moot.

  17. I have to agree with some of the insightful comments on this thread. Krugman’s Nobel demands a response! It is about time that Congress gets off its ass, and instead of wasting time with such piddling concerns as the financial meltdown and reelection, focus on what’s important to us: renaming swedish massages freedom massages. And surely these can’t but have happy endings?

  18. 21 · jackal said

    he was awarded the john bates clark medal long before he started writing columns

    As Rick Davis has probably said by now: John Bates Clark? In the tank for Obama!

  19. I think Ennis was pointing out that it is possible to be a mentor without being the thesis advisor (though the terms are used interchangeably – good thesis advisors should also be mentors, but sometimes are not).

    Point taken

    Ennis I am glad that Krugman was covered here, he is my favorite columnist (As well as many others in this blog I bet). I also love the few books of his I’ve read.

  20. Thanks guys. I didn’t think anybody would be interested in such a geeky, inside baseball, post. Heck, I cleaned it up to remove discussions of New Trade Theory and Krugman’s other contributions to make it shorter and get to the desi bits faster. So I’m pleased to see the response.

  21. To all of the Krugman sycophants and those who support his Nobel just because they like his left-leaning politics, understand this: You can be a once-great academician and then make a fool of yourself by your rants. Krugman has done exactly that. He went from being a respected economist to his own kind of Lou Dobbs – an arrogant journalist with little factual backing for his arguments.

    Jackal – I’m happy to discuss the problems with Krugman’s theories. There are many just as they are with anyone who wins the prize – it takes a long time to have enough empirical data to show that an economist is right or wrong. My point again is that Krugman is not who he was. It’s like saying McCain is a really sane guy. McCain 2000 and McCain 2008 are not the same person. Krugman pre-idiocy is not the same as Krugman today.

    Yes, Nobel prizes are awarded for political reasons. I did not claim that other Nobels are not farcical as well. All I said is that Krugman’s is farcical.

    Again, the point is Krugman got the award for criticizing Bush, not for his academic excellence so the whole point of 2 desis losing this article is a message from the Nobel folks saying, “Want to win, be de jour and we might honor you even if you’re not even a true contender.”

  22. 26 · University of Chicago said

    Again, the point is Krugman got the award for criticizing Bush, not for his academic excellence

    so.. mr. u of chicago thinks that krugman was a great academician and a respected economist (wow, somebody call krugman up at an unearthly morning hour to tell him the news!!!) [enough to win the clark medal, which is well known as a pretty good predictor of the nobel]… but is so upset because he feels the nobel was given to him for his ny times columns. methinks he is just disappointed that the “intellectual” bill kristol didn’t win it then.

  23. Speaking of Nobel Laureates:

    http://www.upi.com/Science_News/2008/10/14/65_US_Nobel_laureates_endorse_Obama/UPI-87491224015215/

    Sixty-five U.S. Nobel Laureate scientists have sent “an open letter to the American people” urging support of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. “This year’s presidential election is among the most significant in our nation’s history,” the scientists wrote. “The country urgently needs a visionary leader who can ensure the future of our traditional strengths in science and technology and who can harness those strengths to address many of our greatest problems: energy, disease, climate change, security, and economic competitiveness. We are convinced that Senator Barack Obama is such a leader, and we urge you to join us in supporting him.”

    Obama’s press office said the letter marks the largest number of Nobel Laureates — “the nation’s greatest minds” — ever to endorse a political candidate.,

  24. I don’t know much about economics, it somehow reminds me of that game Curling, which almost anyone can do, but not many bother to. Some people specialize in it, and they get excited by it and think highly of it. They also hang around with politicians, and have managed to get money from some bank to elect the world champions of Curling, and when they do do it every year, everyone applauds. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Only that I totally don’t get what the halla is all about.

    A lot of people who do (macro) economics also seem to write columns and blogs, so it is kinda hard to see where the columnist ends and the economist begins, and what is the essential distinction between the two. Particularly when the concepts, categories and the general nature of data used by economics tend towards folk psychology.

    Maybe I should take up Curling.

  25. From DizzyDesi’s link (#16):

    At one point Jagdish explained to us his personal theory of reincarnation, which was that if you are a good economist, a virtuous economist, you are reborn as a physicist, and if you are an evil, wicked economist, you are reborn as a sociologist. I’m not sure if even Jagdish remembers this.

    Haha. But Krugman did not internalize academia’s caste system.

    Of course, at first I thought that it was really funny, and then, as I began to, as I had broader experiences, I began to think that it was somewhat unfair. I’ve come to know some sociologists who turned out to be very, very smart and nice people. I’ve also come to know some physicists. But, of course, the point is the joke is not about sociologists or physicists. The joke is about economists. It’s about people who – economists – who aspire to what they imagine physicists to be, to this rigor and certainty and mathematical complexity. So I’m keying off Bob Solow a little bit here – there is this tendency which Jagdish knew better about all the time, that you do not – that the models are there to enlighten – not to be a show-off of your mathematical technique, which was terribly – I think I might say crucially – important in my own life.
  26. “… Krugman is not a real economist…The sad fact is that Krugman’s work is not particularly academic or scholarly. Krugman is as much an economist as our friendly Indophile Thomas Friedman…”

    Whaaaat?! Are you serious?

    Wait.Stop.

    University of Chicago’s post is a troll, folks.

  27. Ennis, I loved this post — thanks for bringing it up.

    I don’t think there’s a dispute around the value of Krugman’s contributions to international trade theory (i.e., as valid, significant, etc.). I think it’s becoming increasingly common to separate one’s “public” voice from the tone and rigor of their academic voices; another great example is Levitt’s Freakonomics, which is written for a “trade” (i.e., non-academy) audience and does not do justice to Levitt’s research. Krugman is similar. I don’t judge the quality of his academic work by the tone he takes in his “trade” voice on the op-ed page of the NYT.

  28. 25, Ennis:

    Thanks guys. I didn’t think anybody would be interested in such a geeky, inside baseball, post. Heck, I cleaned it up to remove discussions of New Trade Theory and Krugman’s other contributions to make it shorter and get to the desi bits faster. So I’m pleased to see the response.

    Why not add them add them as an update now?

  29. http://www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=081015113127.9uzhf7lf&show_article=1

    The global economic crisis is a result of the “comprehensive failure of extreme capitalism,” Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Wednesday……..”– extreme capitalism which now turns to government to prevent systemic failure,”……..”Obscene failures in corporate governance which rewarded greed without any regard to the integrity of the financial system” were one of the factors behind the collapse, Rudd said…….Governments should act so that greed and lax regulation were never allowed to put the world in the same position again, he said, adding that Australia would press for this at a meeting of the G20 group of 20 rich and emerging nations next month………..”Asia is the fastest-growing part of the global economy, by a long shot,” he said………..”Right now the world needs China’s economic strength at a time when growth is under threat.”

  30. http://www.gather.com/viewArticle.jsp?articleId=281474977478488

    Krugman has been a harsh critic of the Bush administration and the Republican Party in The New York Times, where he writes a regular column………..He has also taken the Bush administration to task over the current financial meltdown, blaming its pursuit of deregulation and unencumbered fiscal policies for the financial crisis that has threatened the global economy with recession…………Krugman has also come out forcefully against John McCain during the economic meltdown, saying the Republican presidential candidate is “more frightening now than he was a few weeks ago.” Krugman also has derided the Republicans as becoming “the party of stupid.”

    [Krugman was also an early opponent of the war on Iraq. If Obama is the political leader of the hour, Krugman is the economist of the hour. Laissez faire capitalism deserves to be consigned to the same dustbin of history as communism]

  31. “Naipaul’s Nobel(after 9/11) and Gandhi missing out are some kind of ‘games’ that were played!!!!” Seriously do you play video games before going to sleep.

  32. Pingback: The Gold Standard » Friendly snippets