The Nobels

It was particularly gratifying that, on the morning I was getting up to go to UCSD and teach a class on organizational economics as a tool to understand delegation of authority in politics, the news came over the BBC that Oliver Williamson was co-winner of this year’s Nobel Prize in Economics.

It was further gratifying that Williamson’s co-winner was Elinor Ostrom. She is not only the first woman to win the Nobel in economics–as has been much noted–but also, I believe, the first political scientist.* Apparently there is some value to political “science” after all.

Ostrom’s work builds, of course, on that of a great whom we lost recently,** Mancur Olson, whose Logic of Collection Action had been the subject of one of my classes just last week.

While on the topic of winners of major international prizes who have influenced my teaching and/or research, let’s not overlook the Skytte Prize, our discipline’s approximation to a Nobel (also given by a Swedish committee). This year’s winner was Philippe Schmitter. Last year’s, of course, went to my mentor, Rein Taagepera. And the list of past winners includes two other scholars I am priveleged to have known and worked with (Arend Lijphart and Juan Linz), as well as other luminaries (including Elinor Ostrom, 1999).

I stand on the shoulders of these giants of the field.

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More from Kieran Healy (“I bet the Political Scientists are very, very happy today”), Henry Farrell (“It is also a vote in favor of supplementing quantitative work with qualitative understanding”), Tyler Cowen (“It’s rewarding larger rather than smaller ideas, practical economics rather than abstract theory”), Alex Tabarrok (“Williamson’s work is notable for inspiring a large body of empirical and theoretical work… and having influence in law, political science, and management”). Feel free to add your own thoughts (as always) or links in the comments.

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* I have always considered Thomas Schelling to be a political scientist, because of his enormous contributions to the field of inter-state bargaining. But, of course, like Olson, Schelling’s core discipline is economics. Ostrom, on the other hand, has a Ph.D. in political science from UCLA and is a member of the political science faculty at Indiana University. Other economists to have won the Nobel and had a major impact on political science (or at least its decision and organizational sub-fields) would include James Buchanan, R.H. Coase, and Kenneth Arrow. I am sure someone will let me know if I have overlooked another political scientist among the list of winners.

** It was 1998. Hard to believe it was more than ten years ago. Tempus fugit

6 thoughts on “The Nobels

  1. Herbert Simon got the award in 1978. He should be considered a political scietist rather than an economist. His PhD was in administrative science.

  2. Just to point out that the Nobel is actually handed out by a Norwegian, not Swedish, committee. Regardless, great news for political scientists!

  3. Josep Colomer offers his thoughts, which happen to be quite similar to mine, but with some valuable additional notes about the possible evolution of the Nobel in Economics into a broader social science prize. And his comment thread also includes a mention of Herbert Simon.

    I will admit to not thinking of Simon as a political scientist (and I do think administrative science is a separate discipline). However, that is a quibble. He certainly is not an economist, and he has been quite influential in the science of politics.

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