PRIZES ARE OCCASIONALLY notable for the changes they reflect in the intellectual consensus behind them. This year the Nobel Peace Prize and the awards in economics suggest a pattern. Currently, the great plublic concerns in Europe, as in this country, are inflation, Middle Eastern instability and the steady accumulation of nuclear armories. But the Nobel prizes direct attention to other parts of the world and the concerns of daily life, and death.
The economics prize went to W. Arthur Lewis of Princeton and Theodore W. Schultz of Chicago; both have illuminated the processes by which some under developed countries get more prosperous, and the reasons that others do not. More than most previous Nobel laureates, Mr. Lewis has spent much of his career in the political application of his ideas. He was the first president of the Caribbean Development Bank and has served as adviser to several governments in the Caribbean and Africa. Mr. Schultz was among the first and most persuasive to challenge the idea that economic progress has to mean industrialization.He argued that food aid to the poor countries was generally doing them more harm than good, by deranging their own agricultural prospects.
But the range of these two scholars' work is by no means limited to the Third World. For Americans, anxious about limited resources and energy crises, Mr. Schultz long ago offered a measure of reassurance: he demonstrated that American economic growth has always owned more to the country's human capital -- the education, health and vigor of its people -- than to the more conventional kinds of investment.
Most of the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize over the years have been politicians and diplomats. But Mother Teresa, the nun who founded that Missionaries of Charity, has spent the last 31 years working with the destitute and dying in the slums of Calcutta. It is the example of personal devotion to these people, as individuals, that is compelling. The award is, among other things, a reminder of a kind of poverty that most Europeans and Americans are unlikely ever to see. Occasionally, the Norwegian Nobel Committee uses the prize to remind the world that there is more than one kind of peace, and that poltics is not the only way to pursue it.