Does Thaler deserve the Nobel economics prize?

US economist Richard H. Thaler has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics. The 72-year-old researches the psychological factors behind economic decisions. At last this is a Nobel prize that is relevant for consumers, some commentators write. Others take a more sceptical view of Thaler's theories.

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Die Welt (DE) /

A deserving theory, but incomplete

Thaler has provided some important ideas about seemingly irrational economic decisions but his conclusions aren't very useful, Die Welt comments:

“Thanks to Thaler we have a far better understanding of how humans deviate from the ideal of the 'homo economicus'. Thanks to Thaler we also have a clearer idea of why wages remain stable in times of crisis (because employees perceive cuts as extremely unfair). Or why savers retain shares that are making losses over long periods (because we attach a higher value to the things we own). The big question is whether Thaler's conclusions are as accurate as his analyses. Who decides when big daddy state should intervene? Where are the limits? And above all: who says that a collective entity made up of irrational individuals will behave less irrationally than individuals on their own?”

La Repubblica (IT) /

A beneficial nudge

For once the prize is also about consumers, La Repubblica writes with enthusiasm:

“This Nobel Prize brings the economy back to the reality of the situation for a year - to the realm of the ordinary mortals. Back to those of us who make decisions regarding our finances and lives - not just using a calculator but with our hearts and our gut instincts. Thanks to his research in areas where neurology, psychology and classical economics intersect Thaler has developed the 'nudge' theory. The targeted nudge is supposed to prompt the consumer to adopt pre-determined and (hopefully) beneficial behaviour. ... Responding to accusations that his 'libertarian paternalism' is a weapon of mass manipulation, the newly minted Nobel laureate said that it depended on who was using the weapon, and how.”

Polityka (PL) /

Attack on homo economicus

Thaler deserves the Nobel Prise for rightly rejecting the unrealistic idea of a homo economicus that refuses to be guided by feelings, Polityka believes:

“His main thesis says that homo oeconomicus does not exist. Why not? For three reasons: First of all, because no human being is completely rational. ... Secondly, even if people were rational they'd still have certain 'social preferences' as a result of their value systems. ... And thirdly, due to the lack of self-control. A person may believe that saving is a virtue, but he won't save because he wants to consume here and now. Is that how homo economicus behaves? No. ... In dealing a blow to homo economicus, Richard Thaler from Chicago has deservedly won the 2017 Nobel Prize.”