It seems like every year someone feels obligated to remind us that the Economics Nobel isn’t a real Nobel Prize because it’s not one of the categories established by Alfred Nobel’s will. Yglesias does the honors this year, implying that this is some sort of strange scam where the Bank of Sweden somehow convinced people to start calling their economics award a Nobel. I would think what convinced people was mostly that the Economics Prize has been endorsed by the Nobel Foundation, and is announced right there on their Web site along with the other prizes, and given equal billing. Like the other science prizes, the winner is chosen by the Swedish Royal Academy of the Sciences according to the same procedures. I suppose you can take the position that the list of prizes named by Alfred is exhaustive of the “real” Nobels regardless of what the Nobel Foundation or the Royal Academy decide to do, and hey, whatever makes you happy. But I’m not sure why this is supposed to matter. Insofar as it’s never been Alfred personally selecting the winners, I had assumed the prestige the prize carried had to be a function of the credibility of the Foundation and of the selection process. The Foundation, to be sure, makes the semantic distinction between Alfred’s originals and the Nobel memorial prize in economics, but it’s a bit confusing why an award they decided to add to the roster after the fact should be considered a “fake Nobel” any more than snowboarding should be described as a “fake Olympic sport”—not dating from ancient Greece and all.
What’s actually going on here is that some free-market economists, among them Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, have won the prize, and so some folks who don’t especially care for their views feel compelled to try to deny them the aura of respectability that comes with the Nobel name. But insofar as that respectability never really had much to do with the personal blessing of a 19th century arms dealer, it’s hard to see how this makes sense, and always strikes me as a little petty.
Update: Ok, Ygz says he had no particular axe to grind here, and wasn’t even aware of the various Chicago Schoolers and other free-market boosters who have won the prize. My bad for implying otherwise. But this isn’t a crazy theory of a “vast left wing conspiracy” that I dreamed up. The bit about how the Economics Prize isn’t a “real” Nobel—usually coupled with the suggestion that it was dreamed up by banking elites as a scheme to legitimize their academic minions—is a pretty common trope of folks who want to attack winners they dislike, which in my experience has usually been the Chicagoans. Google around; you’ll find plenty of instances.