Nobel winners in economics share a UC Berkeley past

This year’s two winners of the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences both studied at UC Berkeley, where they are being praised by colleagues for their work in macroeconometrics and macroeconomic theory.

New York University’s Thomas J. Sargent and Princeton University’s Christopher A. Sims are sharing the Nobel for their work in sorting out cause from effect in the economy and policy. Sargent got his bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley in 1964 and Sims did post-graduate work in economics here from 1963-1964.

In 1964, Sargent was the University Medalist, the most distinguished senior graduating from UC Berkeley. At that time, he also received the Economics Department Citation.

He came back to campus in 2007 as the graduation speaker for the economics department and, recalling his own graduations and the memory of lengthy speeches, offered students a pithy list of 12 “valuable lessons that our beautiful subject teaches.”

“Tom Sargent and Chris Sims have been on everybody’s short list for the Nobel Prize in Economics for quite some time now,” said James Powell, department chair and the George Break and Helen Schnacke Break Distinguished Professor of Economics, whose work focuses on econometrics and statistical modeling. “Their research set the modern standard for structural empirical macroeconomics. I have used their articles and books since I first started teaching, and learned a great deal about analysis of macroeconomic data from their work.”

“Sargent and Sims are two of the leading contributors to macroeconometrics since the early 1970s, and the Nobel Prize citation focuses on those contributions,” said Maurice Obstfeld, the Class of 1958 Professor of Economics and an expert on international economics, macroeconomics and monetary economics. “But both men are also important contributors to macroeconomic theory. An example of that is that they separately wrote fundamental papers helping us to understand the relationship between government debt levels and inflation.”

Sargent also co-chaired the thesis committee at New York University for Demian Pouzo, who joined the UC Berkeley economics faculty as an assistant professor in 2009.

“Tom is also very devoted and generous with his students, and a very kind person; I had the privilege to experience this first hand as I am one of his students,” Pouzo said. “I greatly benefited from his insights about economics, and life in general.  Tom is an amazing teacher; he taught several generations of undergraduates and graduates students, and by doing so, helped shaped modern macroeconomics.”

The campus counts five previous winners of the Nobel in Economic Sciences: 

  • Gerard Debreu (1983)
  • John Harsanyi (1994)
  • Dan McFadden (2000)
  • George Akerlof (2001)
  • Oliver Williamson (2009)