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:
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.
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.
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.
In pictures: Saturn images from Cassini probe as it prepares to turn lens towards Earth
Serena Williams apologises after comment that rape victim 'shouldn't have put herself in that position'
FBI finds possible human remains at former home of late gangster James Burke - the man who inspired Goodfellas
'Theres something quite unpleasant going on': Nigel Farage confronted for second time on visit to Scotland
World news in pictures
- 1 Bankers could face jail after report urges the Government to introduce new criminal offence for reckless management
- 2 Breaking the Silence: In the reality of occupation, there are no Palestinian civilians – only potential terrorists
- 3 Richard Nieuwenhuizen death: Six teenagers and 50-year-old father convicted of manslaughter in shocking case of referee killed over a game of football
- 4 Exclusive: Newcastle's star talent-spotter on brink as Joe Kinnear sparks walkout
- 5 Vast methane 'plumes' seen in Arctic ocean as sea ice retreats
iJobs Money & Business
£500 - £600 per day: Orgtel: FX Options Front Office Java / C# Developer - Ba...
£600 - £700 per day: Orgtel: Project Manager - Front Office - Regulatory IT C...
£600 - £750 per day: Orgtel: FATCA Project Manager - Banking - London - £600-...
£550 - £600 per day: Orgtel: Fidessa Analyst / PM - Banking - London - Up to £...