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On October 11th Peter Nobel, a lawyer and descendent of Alfred Nobel, issued a statement dissociating the Nobel family from the so called Nobel prize in economics. Below is my translation of Nobel’s statement.
The Economics Prize in memory of Alfred Nobel should be criticised on two grounds. First, it is a deceptive utilisation of the institution of the Nobel Prize and what it represents. Second, the economics prize is biased, in the sense that it one-sidedly rewards Western economic research and theory.
Alfred Nobel’s testament was not a hasty piece of work. It was a carefully thought out document. Also, Alfred Nobel’s letters suggest that he disliked economists.
The proposal of a Riksbank [central bank] prize “in memory of Alfred Nobel” was discussed by the Nobel Foundation on April 26, 1968. Professor Sten Friberg, rector of the Karolinska Institute, opposed the idea. The Nobel committee of the Norwegian parliament [which selects the peace prize candidate] expressed serious misgivings. But a rapid decision was expected, apparently under pressure. Why? Riksbanken’s chief Per Åsbrink had close contacts within the government, and for the Nobel Foundation it was vitally important to conserve its tax privileges.
What was the position of the Nobel family? Three days before the meeting of April 26, the then director of the Nobel Foundation, Nils Ståhle, met two members of the family and telephonically talked with a third one. Their position was that “it should not become like a sixth Nobel Prize”, but that if the economics prize could be kept clearly separate from the Nobel Prizes then it might be an acceptable idea. On May 10, Ståhle and the president of the Nobel Foundation, von Euler, visited the family’s eldest, Martha Nobel, then 87 years old — with severely impaired hearing but intellectually in good form. They obtained her written approval of the economics prize “under given conditions,” namely that the new prize in all official documents and statements should be kept separated from the Nobel prize, and called the “prize in economic science in memory of Alfred Nobel.”
In a telephonic conversation with a nephew, Martha Nobel said that the whole thing was prearranged and impossible to oppose, so that one could only hope that they would keep their pledge that no confusion with the real Noble prize should occur. There was no approval from the Nobel family as a whole. We were informed only much later.
What has happened is an unparalleled example of successful trademark infringement. However, nobody in the world can prevent journalists, economists and the general public from talking about the “Nobel prize in economics,” with all its connotations. That is why, in the name of decency and in order to honour Alfred Nobel’s memory, this bank prize in his memory should be given on a different occasion than the Nobel day [a day of ceremonies headed by the king].
With no knowledge of economics, I have no opinions about the individual economics prize winners. But something must be wrong when all economics prizes except two were given to Western economists, whose research and conclusions are based on the course of events there, and under their influence. I can imagine Alfred Nobel’s sarcastic comments if he were able to hear about these prize winners. Above all else, he wanted his prizes to go to those who have been most beneficial to humankind, all of humankind!
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