The Economics Nobel Isn’t Really A Nobel according to Maggie Koerth-Baker at FiveThirtyEight.com.
But, technically, there is no Nobel Prize in economics.2 Instead, there is the Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel. It was first awarded in 1969 and is named not after a person, but after the central bank of Sweden — the Sveriges Riksbank — which funds it. The Nobel Foundation doesn’t pay out the award or choose the winner (though the winner is chosen in accordance with the same principles used by the Nobel Foundation), but it does list the prize on its website along with the Nobels, tracks winners the same as Nobel laureates, and even promotes the prize alongside its own. Members of the Nobel family have spoken out against the award.
So why does it exist? Notre Dame historian Philip Mirowski has found evidence that the economics award grew out of Swedish domestic politics. According to Mirowski, in the 1960s, the Bank of Sweden was trying to free itself from government oversight and become independent. One way to do that was to frame economics as purely scientific, rather than political — in which case, government interference could only hurt the bank. Having a Nobel Prize boosted economics’ scientific street cred. And Mirowski isn’t the only academic who is skeptical of whether there should be a Nobel-associated economics prize. Friedrich von Hayek, who won the award in 1974, used his Nobel Banquet speech to critique the prize.3 “The Nobel Prize confers on an individual an authority which in economics no man ought to possess,” Hayek said. He worried that the prize would influence journalists, the public and politicians to accept certain theories as gospel — and enshrine them in law — without understanding that those ideas have a different level of uncertainty than, say, gravity or the mechanics of a human knee.