Magnus #1?

17 year old Magnus Carlsen won a chess game today and is probably now, unofficially, ranked #1 in the world.  (World champion Anand lost and fell behind in rating points.)  Here is an illuminating recent profile of Magnus.  I believe Paul Samuelson is the closest to an economics prodigy we have had.  He was thirty-two when his Foundations of Economic Analysis was published but I have heard that he wrote the book at a much earlier age (does anyone know the exact age?).  He was probably one of the best economists in the world when he received his undergraduate degree at Chicago at the age of 20.  Frank Ramsey is another example of an economics prodigy although he didn’t even think of himself as an economist per se.  Can you think of other prodigies in mathematical economics?  I attribute their scarcity to the relative aesthetic poverty of mathematical economics (for most people it’s not that fun or beautiful) rather than the need for complementary experience-acquired wisdom.  Do you agree?

Addendum: Andrew Gelman considers statistics.


Has there ever been a historian prodigy?

+1 for Dr. Kling. My guess is that there are whole lot of economists out there who consider themselves prodigies, but have been heretofore unable to "convince others".

My criteria for being an economic prodigy:
1. Most clever commodity choices to illustrate production possibility frontiers (Guns & Healthcare!)
2. Knowing how to pronounce and draw all of the greek letters
3. Solving a "C" problem in Mas-Colell, Winston, & Green

Mas-Colell, Winston, & Green: When even the solutions manual doesn't help.

i thought samuelson's foundations was his phd thesis. not sure where i got that.

as for mathematical economics progidies...hmmm...not sure. simon, maybe?

Well, the John Bates Clark Awards are here and it's a pretty distinguished list. Granted, it leaves a lot of time from 20 to 40. Going back a ways, how about John Stuart Mill?

Kevin M. Murphy

why is bill stepp a retard?

How to tell if you're an academic prodigy:

1. Develop a controversial thesis.
2. Convince everyone of its correctness.
3. Live long enough to prove it (or see it proved) wrong.

"Prodigy", when used to mean "productive youth", is relative, especially as what we consider to be old (70 is the new 50) is changing.

The only economist, mathematical or otherwise, is Adam Smith. The rest are pretenders.

Brett is on to something here. Kids who are good at math (I mean really good, not a pretender like Samuelson) are going to go into science (which economics is not) or get a job at Google.
Re: Samuelson, to put it in terms even a moron like zippy can understand, he was an economist the way LBJ was a humanitarian.
Samuelson tried to graft third rate math onto a failed neoclassical model. He hoodwinked enough people to get a job at MIT (Harvard had the good sense not to hire him, although the real reason was his religion), just as LBJ hoodwinked enough people to get his soft communist program approved.

John Geanakoplos?

I believe that Samuelson's undergrad major at Chicago was physics. He got his bachelor's from there in 1935 at the age of 20. His first pubs in econ were in 1937. Foundations is indeed derived from his Ph.D. thesis, with him completing that in 1941 at 26.

Bill Stepp,

Nobels are given for degrees of influence of one's original ideas on economics, not whether or not certain people approve of the policy implictions of their work or their personal politics or personality or whatever. By that criterion, it is totally unsurprising that Samuelson received the second Nobel in econ and is now the most senior living recipient. Whether one likes standard modern neoclassical econ (and I have a lot of criticisms of it), it is Samuelsonian economics above all else. Although many people are not aware of it because his influence is so deeply ingrained into the textbooks, there is no question that he is by far the most influential living economist in the world, for better or worse.

As for Joan Robinson, I once heard a primary source claim that Assar Lindbeck (longtime dominant figure on the Nobel committee) had declared that there were two economists who would get the Nobel over his dead body: Jim Buchanan, who got it and Lindbeck is still alive, and Joan Robinson, who never got it. Her politics got very bizarre in her later life, and rumor has it the committee was afraid she would say outrageous things and insult or punch somebody, but she certainly deserved it, if only for her work on imperfect competition.

BTW, Samuelson did make mathematical errors sometimes, most famously in connection with the reswitching matter in 1966, something that Joan Robinson was also involved with. After he had to admit error in that matter, he declared that "the foundations of economic theory are built on sand."

It would be like giving a Nobel in physics to scientists with inconsistent and incompatible work.

Frank Knight's "Risk, Uncertainty and Profit" would have to count as one of the greatest doctoral dissertations ever written.

Bill Stepp,

I tried to do some checking, but did not get solid answers.
I do not know for sure what Samuelson's undergrad major was
at Chicago. It is clear that he took a lot of both econ and
physics, as well as math.

His Nobel appears to have been given for his overall impact
on "raising the level of economic analysis in static and
dynamic theory." For better or worse, he did in fact determine
the way huge amounts of economic theory is done, both in
general micro and macro theory (less so these days in the latter),
as well as many sub-fields of economics from international trade
through public economics to growth theory and on and on. His
influence is simpy huge, even if one does not like it, and many
have been very critical of it over time.

BTW, amazingly enough he continues to be professionally active,
if at a much reduced level these days compared to the past.
Much of his current efforts involve clarifying his positions
in past controversies, clearly looking to his legacy, and he
is reported to be working on his memoirs, which should be
pretty interesting, whatever one thinks of the quality or
importance of his many contributions to economics.

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