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Outsiders challenge Chicago school for Nobel economics prize
Stockholm (AFP) Oct 9, 2017

The 2017 Nobel season wraps up Monday with the economics prize, which could this year honour fields rarely awarded by the committee, such as development economics or French economist Esther Duflo's research on poverty.

The Nobel Economics Prize was created by the Swedish central bank "in memory of Alfred Nobel" and first awarded in 1969, unlike the other prizes which were created in his last will and testament and first awarded in 1901.

The winner of this year's economics prize will be announced on Monday at 11:45 am (0945 GMT) in Stockholm.

The award will round off a week of prize announcements, including the literature prize to Kazuo Ishiguro, Britain's Japan-born author best known for "The Remains of the Day", and the peace prize to anti-nuclear campaigners ICAN, a coalition of NGOs.

Last year's economics prize went to British-American economist Oliver Hart and Bengt Holmstrom of Finland for their groundbreaking research on contract theory, which has helped design insurance policies and executive pay.

This year, several names have been making the rounds in the media and in academic circles as possible winners.

Economist Avner Offer, co-author of the 2016 book "The Nobel Factor" written with Gabriel Soderberg, said he could see the prize going to France's Esther Duflo, a 44-year-old professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an expert on development policy -- a field honoured with a Nobel only twice in 48 years.

"She is a pioneer of the randomised controlled trials (RCTs) method which has been a major trend in economics in the last 20 years," Offer told AFP.

A technique inspired by RCTs in medicine to test the effectiveness of drugs, the method uses two groups (a randomly chosen group and a control group) in an experiment setting to measure the impact of poverty, health, and education programmes.

If she were to win the Nobel, Duflo would be only the second woman awarded the economics prize, after Elinor Ostrom of the US in 2009.

- 'Ideological' motives -

Economics is perhaps the Nobel discipline where a laureate's profile is easiest to guess: a man over the age of 55, who is an American citizen.

In the past 20 years, 75 percent of economics laureates have met that description.

The average age of all economics laureates at the time of their win is 67 -- the highest among all six Nobel prizes. US economist Leonid Hurwicz, who won in 2007 at age 90, is the oldest person to have won a Nobel to date.

Swedish newspaper of reference Dagens Nyheter on Sunday predicted this year's prize could go to American Paul Romer -- a 61-year-old researcher from the University of Chicago, an activist and entrepreneur who is currently the World Bank's chief economist -- for his pioneering work on endogenous growth theory.

This relatively new area of research tries to incorporate the way that people innovate and develop technologies into models of economic growth.

He could in such a case share the prize with fellow American Robert Barro and Philippe Aghion of France.

Contacted by AFP, Gabriel Soderberg said meanwhile he thought the distinction would honour people working in the field of environmental economics or economic research on the impact of climate change.

Americans Martin Weitzman and William Nordhaus, experts on the economic consequences of global warming, have thus been receiving some Nobel buzz.

Avner Offer and Gabriel Soderberg recalled, however, the Nobel committee's affinity for neoliberal research. Of 78 laureates so far, more than a third have been affiliated with the University of Chicago's school of economics, including 1976 laureate Milton Friedman.

In their book, Avner and Offer claim the prize was created in 1968, like the choice of laureates, due to "ideological" motives rather than scientific ones.

Critics of economic neoliberalism, such as Joseph Stiglitz, Amartya Sen, Robert Shiller and Paul Krugman, have won Nobels, but they remain in the minority.

In short, Offer, an Oxford professor, and Soderberg, a researcher at Uppsala University, lay out that the Swedish central bank created the prize to enhance its authority and the prestige of market-friendly economics -- amid the interventionist policies of Sweden's Social Democratic governments -- in order to influence the future of Sweden and the rest of the developed world.

Each Nobel prize consists of a gold medal, a diploma and a cheque for nine million kronor ($1.1 million, 943,000 euros).

$37.7 million bowl sets Chinese ceramic auction record
Hong Kong (AFP) Oct 3, 2017
A 1,000-year-old bowl from China's Song Dynasty sold for US$37.7 million in Hong Kong on Tuesday, breaking the record for Chinese ceramics, auction house Sotheby's said. The small piece - which dates from 960-1127 - stole the previous record of $36.05 million set in 2014 for a Ming Dynasty wine cup which was snapped up by a Shanghai tycoon famous for making eye-watering bids. The perso ... read more

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