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Why Your Meteorologist has a Shot at the Nobel in Economics

By Chris | October 23, 2007

That might be a bit of a stretch, but meteorology and economics have a lot more in common then you might think. Both the youngest and oldest winners of the Nobel Prize in Economics were meteorologists before they were professional economists. Kenneth Arrow, the youngest to win, was a weather forecaster during his military service in World War II. Similarly, Leonid Hurwicz, one of this year’s winners, taught meteorology at the University of Chicago between 1942 and 1944 before entering the field of economics. At 90 years of age, he is the oldest person awarded a Nobel prize in any field.

In a 2000 interview, Kenneth Arrow compares and contrasts the two fields:

“What I found then was another example of a very complex, interacting system. It [meteorology] had a big advantage over economics because the fundamental theory was very well understood.”

Stanley Alcorn and Ben Solarz in the Yale Economic Review also find the weather to be similar to – albeit less complex than – economic phenomena:

“Economic models would bear resemblance to those of meteorologists, though with the added difficulties of the absence of conservation laws, evolutionary change, and decisions being influenced by uncertain perceptions of the future.”

Maybe the Fed should accompany its next interest rate change with a report of bright employment prospects with a 30% chance of inflation. That was a pretty bad joke, one of many targeted at professions with which the public has very little confidence. Economists “predict 9 out of the last 5 recessions” while an honest weatherman says, “Today’s forecast is bright and sunny with an 80% chance that I’m wrong.”

References: I learned Arrow was a meteorologist listening to a podcast at Bloomberg, there are lots more economics and meteorology jokes where the above came from.

Topics: Economics, Great Economists | 1 Comment »

One Response to “Why Your Meteorologist has a Shot at the Nobel in Economics”

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