Tag Archives: nobel

The Physics Nobel and Human Achievement

While we’re on the topic of human achievement, The Daily Caller was kind enough to run an article I wrote about this year’s physics Nobel laureates, Saul Perlmutter, Brian Schmidt, and Adam Reiss. They discovered the accelerating universe. Here’s a taste:

Perlmutter, Schmidt, and Reiss have shrunk man’s already tiny position in both space and time. But they — and we — still stand tall. If little old us can look through a metal tube with glass discs stuck in it (or radio telescopes, which rely on light we can’t even see), and infer from dim and ancient supernovae, millions of light years away, that the universe’s expansion is accelerating — well, that’s a very big achievement for such a small species.

And we’re capable of much, much more. Our universe may die in ice in the distant future. But until then, we will live well. Or rather, we will so long as human achievements like Perlmutter, Schmidt, and Reiss’ are encouraged, valued, and rewarded.

Read the whole thing here. Interested readers might also enjoy Mario Livio’s book The Accelerating Universe and Fred Adams and Greg Laughlin’s Five Ages of the Universe: Inside the Physics of Eternity.

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The Wisdom of George Stigler

George Stigler won a Nobel Prize for his work on the economics of regulation. He wrote extensively about regulatory capture, and in fact coined the term. He was one of only a few sane souls who stubbornly insisted that regulations be judged by their actual results, not their intended results. Good intentions, however noble, are not enough. Here’s an example of Stigler at his finest:

Regulation and competition are rhetorical friends and deadly enemies: over the doorway of every regulatory agency save two should be carved: “Competition Not Admitted.” The Federal Trade Commission’s doorway should announce , “Competition Admitted in Rear,” and that of the Antitrust Division, “Monopoly Only by Appointment.”

-George Stigler, “Can Regulatory Agencies Protect the Consumer?”, from The Citizen and the State: Essays on Regulation (1975), p. 183.

Happy 90th Birthday to Nobel Laureate James Buchanan

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James Buchanan was one of the founding fathers of public choice theory, along with Gordon Tullock and some others (Bill Niskanen, Mancur Olson, et al). Public choice, despite the obscure name, is quite simple. It says that market behavior does not end where government begins. Politicians and other government actors are not angels. They are just as self-interested as you or I. Public choices are subject to the same incentives as private choices.

Buchanan’s simple, powerful insight won him the economics Nobel in 1986. Don Boudreaux made some brief remarks at Buchanan’s recent 90th birthday celebration. They’re worth reading, especially if you aren’t familiar with Buchanan and his very distinguished place in the history of economic thought. Also worth reading is his Nobel lecture.

This Year’s Economics Nobel Winners

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Congratulations to Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson. Both are highly deserving.

Ostrom’s work shows that market behavior emerges in settings not usually thought of as markets (condo associations, within government  etc.).

Williamson has made brilliant contributions to the New Institutional Economics (NIE), which says that changing the rules of the game (the existing institutions) will alter the behavior of the people affected. Williamson’s work applies the economic way of thinking to deduce exactly how, with an emphasis on how transaction costs affect the interplay between individuals and firms.

President Obama Wins Nobel Peace Prize

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It is ironic that the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize wants to send more troops to Afghanistan. Even so, President Obama is in a prime position to work wonders for the cause of peace. He can institute free trade in America.

Trade is the ultimate act of peace. If someone has something you covet, you are faced with a choice. You could take it from him by force. Or you could trade for it. The first option is the root of all war. The second is the root of all peace.

Trading with people instead of stealing from them is a sign of respect. It says you honor their rights as an individual. It says you reject the use of force. It says you choose persuasion over coercion.

If he wants to earn the prize he has been given, President Obama should scrap those tire tariffs against China. Publicly retract his blustery campaign statements about renegotiating NAFTA. Repeal every tariff, every antidumping duty, and every last restraint on trade in the books.

Nothing promotes peace and civility more than commerce. After all, killing the customer is very bad for business.