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article imageEconomics Prize wraps up unusual Nobel season

By Helene DAUSCHY, with Marc PREEL (AFP)     Oct 11, 2020 in World

Work on inequality, economic psychology, auctions, health economics and labour markets are some of the favourites as Monday's economics prize closes an unusual Nobel season nearing the record of women laureates in one year.

This year's final prize, officially the Sveriges Riksbank (Sweden's central bank) Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, will be announced at 11:45 am (0945 GMT) on Monday.

Last year the honour went to French-American Esther Duflo, Indian-born Abhijit Banerjee of the US, and American Michael Kremer for their experimental work on alleviating poverty.

For this year's prize several names are buzzing in academic circles and the media.

American Claudia Goldin, whose research has focused on inequality and the female labour force, is one of the favourites to become the third woman to receive the prize.

Another likely contender is her compatriot Anne Krueger, formerly the number two, and briefly the managing director, at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), who has studied rent-seeking and is a free trade activist.

If a woman were to win on Monday, 2020 would equal the 2009 record of five female Nobel winners in one year.

While the number of female winners has risen sharply since the turn of the century, they still represent only about one out of every 20 Nobel medals since 1901.

- Health economics -

Economics remains a Nobel discipline with a clear profile for winners, an American man over the age of 55, with three quarters of the laureates over the last 20 years matching this description.

The average age for recipients is over 65, the highest among the six Nobel awards.

American Paul Milgrom, 72, together with compatriot Robert Wilson, 83, are once again predicted as favourites for their work on commercial auctions.

Israeli-American Joshua Angrist, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US, has also been proposed for research into the impact of factors such as class size and study length on academic success and the labour market.

Other pioneers of "natural experiments", such as the Canadian David Card, could be given the nod together with him.

Israeli economist Elhanan Helpman and American Gene Grossman, specialists in international trade, are also often mentioned as favourites.

Given that this year's prizes are handed out in the midst of a pandemic, there is a good chance the Royal Swedish Academy of Science could choose to honour an economist focusing on health.

"This year with the intertwining pandemic and economic crisis, it seems more relevant than ever," Micael Dahlen, a professor at the Stockholm School of Economics, told AFP.

For Dahlen, that would make Paul Slovic, a professor of psychology at the University of Oregon, a strong candidate for "his work on how we (do and in various ways could) value human lives and risk."

Other contenders among pioneers who have brought psychology into economic research include Americans Matthew Rabin and Colin Camerer and Swiss-Austrian Ernst Fehr.

French economists Thomas Piketty, who rose to prominence with his book "Capital in the Twenty-First Century," and Olivier Blanchard, former chief economist at the IMF, have also been speculated on.

- Controversial discipline -

Even if it might be the most prestigious prize an economist can hope to receive, the economics prize has not reached the same status as those originally chosen by Alfred Nobel in his will founding the prizes, which included medicine, physics, chemistry, literature and peace.

It was instead created through a donation from the Swedish central bank and detractors have thus dubbed it "a false Nobel."

Four women have been honoured so far in this year's Nobel prizes
Four women have been honoured so far in this year's Nobel prizes
Kun TIAN, AFP/File

The prize will close the 2020 Nobel season which so far has seen the peace prize awarded to the UN's World Food Programme.

Women have been more prevalent than usual this year, with American poet Louise Gluck winning the literature prize.

And Frenchwoman Emmanuelle Charpentier and American Jennifer Doudna became the first all-female duo to win a scientific Nobel on Wednesday, clinching the chemistry award for their discovery of the CRISPR-Cas9 DNA snipping "scissors."

The prize comes with 10 million Swedish kronor (about $1.1 million, 950,000 euros) and a medal.

Winners would normally receive their Nobel from King Carl XVI Gustaf at a formal ceremony in Stockholm on December 10, but the pandemic means it has been replaced by a televised ceremony showing the laureates receiving their awards in their home countries.

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