American growth theorists buzzed about for Nobel

October 9, 2011 - 7:40 AM

STOCKHOLM (AP) — Researchers who study economic growth and how technology helps drive long-term development are among the top contenders for the Nobel prize for economics being awarded Monday, Swedish Nobel guessers say.

A day before the announcement of the prestigious 10 million kronor ($1.5 million) award, Americans Robert Barro and Paul Romer stand out as favorites for the prize for their research on growth, leading experts say.

The Nobel Committee maintains it doesn't pay attention to current events when picking a winner, but an award to growth theory would be closely watched as the world debates how to revive the economy in the face of large public spending cuts.

Romer, a former senior fellow at Stanford University now at New York University, has been hot "for a couple of decades," said Uppsala University economics professor Daniel Waldenstrom. That is one of the unspoken criteria to win the prize because it typically takes that much time to evaluate if results are sustainable.

"His research is focused on powers within technology and development that drive growth, that had previously been overlooked," Waldenstrom told The Associated Press. "He has showed that it is actually significant for long-term growth and has changed our view of what drives growth."

Romer has constructed mathematical models showing how technological advances are the result of specific decisions to invest in research and development. Later, he advanced his ideas, concluding that to make real progress, societies must also keep implementing better rules that structure how people work together.

He could share the prize with growth theory pioneer Barro, a professor of economics at Harvard University, who has specifically looked at the links between innovation, public investment and growth.

Hubert Fromlet, a professor in International Economics at the Jonkoping International Business School and Linnaeus University in Sweden, put Barro among his top-five candidates for the prize.

Fromlet correctly predicted that American economist Dale Mortensen would win the award last year for his work, together with fellow prize winners Peter Diamond and Christopher Pissarides on developing a theory that helps explain why many people can remain unemployed despite a large number of job vacancies.

"You have to look at research areas: What areas haven't been awarded in a while?" Fromlet said. "Most often a certain research area is awarded, but sometimes lifetime achievements can also be awarded."

The economics prize is not among the original awards established by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel in his 1895 will, but was created in 1968 by the Swedish central bank in his memory.

Fromlet said other hot candidates for this year's award include: the India-born game theorist Avinash Dixit; French professor Jean Tirole, for work within industrial organization and other fields; as well as MIT professor Jerry A. Hausman, who created a method that allows scientists to evaluate their statistical models.

Also mentioned are Douglas Diamond of the University of Chicago, for his analysis of financial crises, or American professors Anne Krueger and Gordon Tullock for their description of a behavior they called rent-seeking, which refers to actions to manipulate an environment for personal gains without contributing to productivity.

Another potential candidate is American professor Martin S. Feldstein for his work on macroeconomics and public finance, including research on public pension systems.

Since the economy prize was first awarded in 1969, more than 40 Americans have received it.

Last week, Bruce Beutler of the U.S. and Frenchman Jules Hoffmann won medicine prize for their research on innate immunity, when receptor proteins that recognize bacteria and other microorganisms as they enter the body activate the first line of defense in the immune system.

They shared it with Canadian-born Ralph Steinman, who died three days before the announcement, and who was honored for his discovery of the dendritic cell and its role in adaptive immunity.

U.S.-born scientists Saul Perlmutter, Brian Schmidt and Adam Riess won the physics prize for discovering that the universe is expanding at an accelerating pace, while Israeli scientist Dan Shechtman won the chemistry award for his discovery of quasicrystals, a mosaic-like chemical structure that researchers previously thought was impossible.

Acclaimed Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer won the literature prize and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman of Yemen shared the Nobel Peace Prize "for their nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work".

The awards are always handed out on Dec. 10, the anniversary of Nobel's death in 1896.

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Online:

http://www.nobelprize.org

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Malin Rising can be reached at http://twitter.com/malinrising