Friday, November 20, 2009

The Nobel Prize for Economics: A Nobel Prize for Mathematics in Disguise?

Certainly it was not a part of Alfred Nobel’s original will, but is the Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences really just a thinly veiled attempt at a Nobel Prize for Mathematics?

By: Ringo Bones

To anyone who still cares about the annual Nobel Prize festivities, it is probably common knowledge to them that there is not – and probably will never will be – a Nobel Prize for Mathematics. But given that the Nobel Prize for Economics – also officially known as the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences – is not part of Alfred Nobel's original will bequeathing his fortune for an annual prize for those deemed worthy enough by his estate. And given that economics is something of a mathematics intensive scientific endeavor, does this mean that the Nobel Prize for Economics is nothing more that a thinly veiled Nobel Prize for Mathematics established to appease those generations of “angry” mathematicians left out by Alfred Nobel’s prestigious will?

The Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences – commonly referred to as the Nobel Prize in Economics – is an award reserved for outstanding contributions to the science of economics and is generally considered as one of the most prestigious awards for that science. But as everyone knows by now, it is not part of the original set of awards in Alfred Nobel’s will – i.e. 1) Medicine and Physiology, 2) Literature, 3) Physics, 4) Chemistry and 5) Peace.

The Prize in Economics, as it is referred to by the Nobel Foundation, was established and endowed by Sveriges Riksbank – Sweden’s main bank – during 1968 on the bank’s 300th Anniversary in memory of Alfred Nobel’s 1895 will. Like the Nobel Laureates in Chemistry and Physics, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences does the selecting of the Laureates in Economics. It was first awarded during 1969 to Dutch and Norwegian economists Jan Tinbergen and Ragnar Frisch for having developed and applied dynamic models for the analysis of economic processes. Given how math intensive the science of economics is, rumors start to spread that the Nobel Committee finally caved in to the demands of mathematicians around the world to have their very own Nobel prize. But why is it that Alfred Nobel has such a miserly of praise to mathematicians everywhere?

If you check out the official sanctioned Alfred Nobel’s estate site or the Nobel Prize Committee sites on the Internet. The Nobel estate’s “official” explanation on why Alfred Nobel didn’t include mathematics as being worthy enough to receive any of his famed prizes is that “officially” Alfred Nobel thought that mathematicians hasn’t contributed enough progress to humanity to warrant being honored with one of his prizes. In other words, Alfred Nobel thinks that mathematics doesn’t contribute one iota to the betterment of humanity as a whole.

Unofficially – according to the “supposed rumors” being spread by Ivy League mathematics professors in America. The reason Alfred Nobel haven’t establish a Nobel Prize for mathematics is that during the brief period in his life when he managed to socialized the woman of his dreams – i.e. those rare times when Alfred Nobel wasn’t too engrossed with his work. He unfortunately lost the woman of his dreams to a more “romantically skilled” mathematician. Given that those were still “Victorian Times”, it wasn’t as tawdry as a contemporary Hollywood love story.

Given that most higher concepts of economics also use higher mathematics that were formerly the reserve of the “thorny task” of seamlessly unifying Albert Einstein’s General Relativity with quantum mechanics. It is somewhat easy to forgive anyone who thinks that the Nobel Prize for Economics is a thinly veiled version of a Nobel Prize for Mathematics. Unfortunately, Alfred Nobel passed away before the full impact of mathematics became self-evident. Alfred Nobel would have thought differently of mathematics if he only knew that this day and age, science and even national security has mathematics as its bulwark. Given what we knew of his resolve for mathematics, I even wonder if Alfred Nobel would give the green light in giving one of his prizes to the science of economics if he was still alive in 1968.

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