You've all heard of the Nobel Prize in Economics, right? It's awarded every year, along with the other prizes? Famous people like Milton Friedman have won it, and Paul Krugman got it a few years back?

Nope. There are only five Nobel Prizes: three in sciences (physics, chemistry, and medicine), one in arts (literature), and of course the Peace Prize. There is a separate prize called the "Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel," but Albert Nobel didn't create it, and it has nothing to do with the Nobel Foundation. And yet everyone thinks it's a Nobel prize, to the point that the Nobel website now has a section for it.

Okay, if they're so connected, it sounds like we're splitting hairs by saying it's not a Nobel prize. But some people are mad that economists use the Nobel name to steal prestige. People like Nobel heir Peter Nobel, who says, "Nobel despised people who cared more about profits than society's wellbeing. There is nothing to indicate that he would have wanted such a prize."

That's not fair to economists—economics is about society's wellbeing, and if you don't believe that, moving somewhere whose economy has crashed will convince you otherwise. Still, economics is a little different from the other sciences being honored (we'll leave aside the Peace Prize for now, which is its own can of worms). 

If you discover a new element or invent time travel, as you do, everyone agrees that's an amazing advance. But if you come up with some new economic model, your colleagues will spend the next century debating whether you're even right, let alone whether you "have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind." When Friedrich Hayek won in 1974, he said he opposed the whole award. His "Austrian business cycle theory" was just a theory—a theory he believed, sure, but he knew others disagreed, and it did no one good for him to receive false validation labeling his idea as best.

As for economics stuff everyone agrees about, that can sound hilariously basic compared to the other breakthroughs honored with Nobels. Even economics professors joke about this. "This man stated that when you don't have much money," one professor will tell his students, "you don't spend much money. Then when you get more money, you spend more money. And for that," he says, with a twinkle in his eye, "he won the Nobel Prize." 

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Top image: Hoover Institution, Jonathunder/Wiki Commons

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