Nobel Prizes: Tax and spend and rock 'n' roll

An academic dubbed the 'King of Repugnance' has won the Nobel Prize for Economics. What's happened to the dismal science? Tim Walker explains how models and curves got sexy

The winners of this year's Nobel Prize in economics are Lloyd Shapley and Alvin Roth. Shapley, 89, a mathematician and professor emeritus at UCLA, was responsible for a 50-year-old paper about how best to match people to potential partners in a group of individuals with differing views about their ideal type. Roth, 60, who teaches at Harvard Business School and is presently visiting professor at Stanford, took up Shapley's matchmaking theory years later, and applied it to fields such as organ donation and school selection.

Roth is already a hero to younger economists, including Steven D Levitt, one of the authors of the Freakonomics books. Levitt's writing partner, Stephen J Dubner, describes Roth in their blog as "the King of Repugnance" – because "he is masterful at thinking about the kind of transactions that we find morally or ethically or otherwise disturbing", such as paying for kidney transplants. He has also studied the way repugnance shifts over time, so that previously unsavoury activities such as currency speculation and life-insurance sales are now accepted, while present taboos, such as performance-enhancing drugs, might be less frowned upon in future.

Freakonomics – with its theories about the effect on crime rates of legalising abortion, or the social conditioning caused by baby names – popularised a genre of non-fiction bestseller. The natural route for Roth and/or Shapley would be into commercial publishing. They could quite easily follow their fans Levitt and Dubner's example, and produce a million-selling selection of amusing and enlightening economics-based observations about everyday life. If so, here's their competition:

David Friedman

Might reasonably be called the Godfather of modern popular economics, given that his Hidden Order: The Economics of Everyday Life was published nine years before Freakonomics. The son of the economist Milton Friedman, he made his name with his 1973 book The Machinery of Freedom, which posited a theory of "anarcho-capitalism".

Stefan Szymanski & Simon Kuper

Szymanski, a University of Michigan professor, and Kuper, a Financial Times columnist, met at a football conference in Turkey, where they found they shared a scepticism about accepted professional perceptions of the sport. They set out to debunk the old theories with economic evidence, the result being their bestselling Soccernomics.

Tim Harford

Another FT writer and the presenter of Radio 4's More or Less, Harford was the man behind the popular Undercover Economist column (and bestselling book), which threw light on the workings of the modern economy, by way of subjects such as Fairtrade coffee and Mafia money-laundering.

Tyler Cowen

A professor of economics at George Mason University in Virginia, Cowen is the co-author of the pop-economics blog Marginal Revolution. He recently published An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies, in which he applied economic theory to the pressing problems of where to find good seafood in developing nations, and how to get the best recommendations from your waiter.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
Al Pacino in ‘The Humbling’, as an ageing actor
filmHam among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
News
Fifi Trixibelle Geldof with her mother, Paula Yates, in 1985
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
Mario Balotelli in action during his Liverpool debut
football ...but he can't get on the scoresheet in impressive debut
Environment
Pigeons have been found with traces of cocaine and painkillers in their system
environmentCan species be 'de-extincted'?
Arts and Entertainment
booksExclusive extract from Howard Jacobson’s acclaimed new novel
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
A Pilgrim’s Progress is described by its publisher as “the one-and-only definitive record” of David Hockney's life and works
people
Sport
Loic Remy signs for Chelsea
footballBlues wrap up deal on the eve of the transfer window
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker
TV
Life and Style
Instagram daredevils get thousands of followers
techMeet the daredevil photographers redefining urban exploration with death-defying stunts
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'
TVDaughter says contestant was manipulated 'to boost ratings'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Real Staffing

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Real Staffing are currently lo...

C# .NET Developer (PHP, Ruby, Open Source, Blogs)

£40000 - £70000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: C# .NET ...

Data Analyst/Developer (Good education, Data mining, modelling,

£40000 - £70000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Ana...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor