The Econ Nobel we were all waiting for

noahpinion.substack.com
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Card, Angrist, and Imbens have made econ a more scientific field.
"And new philosophy calls all in doubt,

The element of fire is quite put out,

The sun is lost, and th'earth, and no man's wit

Can well direct him where to look for it."

— John Donne

The 2021 Econ Nobel went to David Card, Joshua Angrist, and Guido Imbens for their work in empirical economics. If you want to predict who will win the Econ Nobel, there's a pretty simple procedure. List the most influential people people in the field who haven't won it yet, and assume that micro theorists won't win the prize two years in a row. Order the top 10 or 20 most influential people in terms of when they made their impact, and the ones whose influence is the oldest are the most likely to win. (Of course, the trick here is to determine who's influential; this is done by a combination of looking at impact rankings, talking to economists, and just generally sort of knowing what's going on in the field. But it's not that hard.)

For years, this method led lots of people — including me — to predict a Nobel for David Card. His 1994 paper with Alan Krueger on the minimum wage was a thunderbolt that rocked the entire field of economics, and heralded an epochal shift to come. Since then, Card has been at the forefront of empirical labor economics, extending and refining the techniques he pioneered to study everything from education to immigration to gender wage gaps to inequality and much more. Angrist and Imbens' impact on the field — though also huge — came later, and thus I wouldn't have been surprised had they won the prize in later years. But Card was clearly overdue.

Perhaps the reason it took this long was that Card's conclusions in his famous minimum wage paper were so hard for many in the field to swallow. Card and Krueger (who sadly died before he could receive the prize) examined a 1992 minimum wage hike in New Jersey, and found that it didn't result in a loss of jobs. They compared New Jersey to neighboring Pennsylvania, and found no job loss. They compared high-wage…
Noah Smith
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