Nobel Prize-Winning Contributions to Economics

a course by Marek Hlavac [personal website]

Course description: Since it was first awarded in 1969 to Ragnar Frisch and Jan Tinbergen, dozens of scholars have won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. In this course, we will survey the discipline of economics through the lens of these scholars’ prize-winning contributions and their more recent applications. In doing so, we will explore the building blocks on which today’s economics stands, and will learn a great deal of intellectual history. Along the way, we will see how Nobel prize-winning contributions help explain the world around us, and will ask questions such as: Why are some countries rich, while others are poor? Should you be allowed to sell your kidney? Why do some countries impose very restrictive immigration policies? Is there such a thing as ‘involuntary unemployment’? Can money buy happiness Why do smokers find it so hard to quit? Is foreign aid politically motivated? How should medical school graduates be matched to residency programs? When does it make sense for several countries to use the same currency? Does a country’s political system determine its economic performance? When should the government allow two large companies to merge, and when should it prevent such mergers? Are you correct to suspect that your judgment might be hopelessly out of whack? and many, many others.

Note: This syllabus stems from an undergraduate seminar that I taught in the Department of Economics at Harvard University between 2013 and 2016. I figure it would be a pity to let it die, so I have decided to post it online. I will be regularly updating the syllabus to reflect the most recent Nobel Prizes in Economics. Latest update: 19 Nov 2017

Introduction: Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Science in Memory of Alfred Nobel

The Scope of Economics

1992: Gary S. Becker “for having extended the domain of microeconomic analysis to a wide range of human behavior and interaction, including non-market behavior

Ethics, Values and Economics

1974: Gunnar Myrdal and Friedrich August von Hayek “for their pioneering work in the theory of money and economic fluctuations and for their penetrating analysis of the interdependence of economic, social and institutional phenomena

Economic History

1993: Robert W. Fogel and Douglass C. North “for having renewed research in economic history by applying economic theory and quantitative methods in order to explain economic and institutional change

Transaction Costs and Property Rights

1991: Ronald H. Coase “for his discovery and clarification of the significance of transaction costs and property rights for the institutional structure and functioning of the economy

2009: Elinor Ostrom “for her analysis of economic governance, especially the commons” and Oliver E. Williamson “for his analysis of economic governance, especially the boundaries of the firm

Asymmetric Information

2001: George A. Akerlof, A. Michael Spence, Joseph E. Stiglitz “for their analyses of markets with asymmetric information

Incomplete Contracts and Principal-Agent Problem

2016: Oliver Hart and Bengt Holmström "for their contributions to contract theory"

Game Theory: Nash Equilibrium, Bayesian Games, and Sub-Game Perfection

1994: John C. Harsanyi, John F. Nash Jr., and Reinhard Selten “for their pioneering analysis of equilibria in the theory of non-cooperative games

Game Theory: Commitment and Repeated Games

2005: Robert J. Aumann, Thomas C. Schelling "for having enhanced our understanding of conflict and cooperation through game-theory analysis"

Industrial Organization and Regulation

1982: George J. Stigler “for his seminal studies of industrial structures, functioning of markets and causes and effects of public regulation

2014: Jean Tirole “for his analysis of market power and regulation

Mechanism and Market Design

2007: Leonid Hurwitz, Eric S. Maskin, Roger B. Myerson “for having laid the foundations of mechanism design theory

2012: Alvin E. Roth and Lloyd S. Shapley “for the theory of stable allocations and the practice of market design

Labor Markets with Search Costs

2010: Peter A. Diamond, Dale T. Mortensen, and Christopher A. Pissarides “for their analysis of markets with search frictions


2000: James J. Heckman "for his development of theory and methods for analyzing selective samples," and Daniel L. McFadden "for his development of theory and methods for analyzing discrete choice"

Financial Markets: Efficient Market Hypothesis and Asset Pricing

2013: Eugene F. Fama, Lars Peter Hansen, and Robert J. Shiller “for their empirical analysis of asset prices

Financial Markets: Portfolio Theory and Financial Derivatives

1985: Franco Modigliani “for his pioneering analyses of saving and of financial markets

1990: Harry M. Markowitz, Merton H. Miller, and William F. Sharpe “for their pioneering work in the theory of financial economics

1997: Robert C. Merton, Myron S. Scholes “for a new method to determine the value of derivatives

Economic Growth and Income Inequality

1971: Simon Kuznets “for his empirically founded interpretation of economic growth which has led to a new and deepened insight into the economic and social structure and process of development

1987: Robert M. Solow “for his contributions to the theory of economic growth

International Economics: Currencies and Exchange Rates

1999: Robert A. Mundell “for his analysis of monetary and fiscal policy under different exchange rate regimes and his analysis of optimum currency areas

International Economics: Trade and Geography

2008: Paul R. Krugman “for his analysis of trade patterns and location of economic activity

The Phillips Curve: Is There a Trade-Off Between Inflation and Unemployment?

1976: Milton Friedman “for his achievements in the fields of consumption analysis, monetary history and theory and for his demonstration of the complexity of stabilization policy

2006: Edmund S. Phelps “for his analysis of intertemporal tradeoffs in macroeconomic policy

Macroeconomics: Rational Expectations

1995: Robert E. Lucas, Jr. “for having developed and applied the hypothesis of rational expectations, and thereby having transformed macroeconomic analysis and deepened our understanding of economy policy

2004: Finn E. Kydland and Edward C. Prescott “for their contributions to dynamic macroeconomics: the time consistency of economic policy and the driving forces behind business cycles

2011: Thomas J. Sargent and Christopher A. Sims “for their empirical research on cause and effect in the macroeconomy

Social Choice and Welfare Economics

1972: John R. Hicks and Kenneth J. Arrow “for their pioneering contributions to general economic equilibrium theory and welfare theory

1998: Amartya Sen “for his contributions to welfare economics

2015: Angus Deaton “for his analysis of consumption, poverty, and welfare

Public Choice and Political Economy

1986: James M. Buchanan, Jr. “for his development of the contractual and constitutional bases for the theory of economic and political decision-making

Experimental Economics

2002: Vernon L. Smith [shared with Daniel Kahneman] “for having established laboratory experiments as a tool in empirical economic analysis, especially in the study of alternative market mechanisms

Behavioral Economics

1978: Herbert A. Simon “for his pioneering research into the decision-making process within economic organizations

2002: Daniel Kahneman [shared with Vernon L. Smith] “for having integrated insights from psychological research into economic science, especially concerning human judgment and decision-making under uncertainty

2017: Richard Thaler "for his contributions to behavioural economics"

About the author: Marek Hlavac teaches economics at UWC Adriatic, an international secondary school in Duino, Italy. He is also a microeconomics instructor in the Summer Program of the Mid-Career Master in Public Administration program at the Harvard Kennedy School. He holds a bachelor's degree in Economics, summa cum laude, from Princeton University, a Master in Public Policy degree from Georgetown University, and a Ph.D. in Political Economy from Harvard University. His personal website is [here].