Dept. of What If

What if Nobel Prize winners ran the country?

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By Zachary A. Goldfarb
Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Obama administration seems to like Nobel Prizes. The president has one. So does his energy secretary. So does a recent nominee to the Federal Reserve Board. And though White House science adviser John Holdren didn't win one himself, he led an organization that did. So, could the president put together an all-Nobel Cabinet? Well, its members would be fairly old, for one, and probably prone to disagreements. Here's what a Stockholm-approved "team of rivals" might look like -- and what it might do.

President

Barack Obama

He received the 2009 peace prize for "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy." Still mired in Iraq and Afghanistan a year after his surprise win, Obama has yet to show he's the one the Swedes were counting on.

State

Elie Wiesel

He won the peace prize in 1986; the committee said that "his message is one of peace, atonement and human dignity." The Holocaust survivor could focus attention on ethnic warfare in Sudan and elsewhere, but his advocacy for Israel could make him controversial when engaging the Muslim world.

Treasury

Edward Prescott

He was a co-winner of the 2004 economics prize for his "contributions to dynamic macroeconomics: the time consistency of economic policy and the driving forces behind business cycles." Prescott would be skeptical of massive government spending to stimulate the economy. He'd also want to keep the Bush tax cuts in place to spur investment and boost productivity.

Defense

Thomas Schelling

He won the joint prize in economics in 2005 for "having enhanced our understanding of conflict and cooperation through game-theory analysis." In his research, Schelling masterfully sketched out Cold War nuclear strategy. He could apply his game-theory approach to 21st-century threats such as terrorism and cyber-attacks.

Justice

Gary Becker

Becker, who won the 1992 prize in economics for "having extended the domain of microeconomic analysis to a wide range of human behavior," used economics to understand what motivates and deters crime. He found that harsher punishments can be a more effective way to enforce the law than investing huge sums of money in policing and courts.


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