Woman Wins Econ Nobel

Indiana University Professor Elinor Ostrom and University of California at Berkeley Professor Oliver E. Williamson will be the recipients of this year’s Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, the prize committee announced yesterday—to the surprise of some members of the Harvard Economics Department.

Ostrom, the first female recipient of a prize in this category, was recognized for her work concerning economic governance.

Specifically, she showed that common property does not necessarily have to be privatized in order to be efficiently used.

Williamson was recognized for his work arguing that hierarchical organizations such as firms—in addition to markets—can serve as governance structures, allowing them to resolve conflicts in an alternative manner.

“[Yesterday’s] Nobel Prize is timely, as the economic crisis has taught us that we need to understand much better what goes on within large organizations, and what goes on within organizations is not entirely governed by market forces. This is precisely what the Nobel Prize winners and my colleague Oliver Hart have been researching on over the past three decades,” said Harvard Economics Professor Philippe Aghion yesterday.


Aghion said that Harvard’s Oliver S. Hart “went much further than Williamson by constructing a rigorous framework that made the theory of the firm become truly operational and testable.”

Adam M. Guren ’08, a current economics Ph.D. student and former Crimson editorial chair, wrote in an e-mail to the Crimson that, “Bottom Line: Everyone here at Harvard thought that Oliver Hart, who is at Harvard, would and should win with Oliver Williamson, and people are really disappointed that he was not recognized.”

“[It is] to me somewhat surprising that Hart was not among the winners,” Aghion said.

Hart declined to comment on the selection committee’s decision.

This will be the twelfth consecutive year that Harvard has not been represented among the Economic Sciences category winners of the Nobel Prize since Professor Robert C. Merton won the prize in 1997.

Some of the more recent winners undertook their research at Harvard before receiving their prize while at other institutions.