Richard Thaler’s Nobel Prize captures the essence of Chicago Booth

Richard Thaler’s Nobel Prize captures the essence of Chicago Booth

Professor Richard Thaler is honored during a press conference and reception at Booth, October 9, 2017, after being awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics. (Photo by Jean Lachat)

On Monday morning the University of Chicago came together in the Harper Center to congratulate and toast Professor Richard Thaler, who had just been awarded the 2017 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. Professor Thaler is widely known as the “father of behavioral economics” for pioneering the field that pairs traditional economics with human psychology to better understand how people make decisions.

As Booth students crowded the staircases and multiple levels that overlook the Winter Garden, we listened to Dr. Thaler’s wisdom and notorious wit. He joked about how he’s enjoyed the time he’s spent at Chicago “arguing with guys like Fama,” but that they try to “keep [their] arguments to the golf course” these days. For those unfamiliar, he’s referring to Professor Eugene Fama, Chicago Booth’s 2013 Nobel laureate, renowned for his work arguing for the efficiency of financial markets (watch Professor Thaler and Professor Fama debate this very topic in the video below).


With that quick and subtle joke, Professor Thaler may have captured the essence of what makes Chicago Booth a truly special place to be.

It’s not that Dr. Thaler is the eighth University of Chicago business school professor to have won the Nobel Prize in Economics. Nor is it that we are part of the “Chicago School” tradition, referring to the time when the great economists of the 20th century (like Milton Friedman) gathered here to change the way people think about markets and businesses.

What’s really special about Chicago Booth is that it’s home to two professors who have risen to the top of their field with the highest honors, and maintained a real friendship, all while holding completely opposing views on the fundamental nature of their life’s work.

That is the essence of Chicago Booth: the idea that differing opinions and divergent beliefs make our community stronger through debate, not weaker through division. It’s the idea that economic tools can work alongside other disciplines to solve real human problems, not just hypothetical abstractions. It’s the idea that research, analysis, and being forced to defend your opinions against those who disagree may be uncomfortable, but it is also essential to finding truth in a complex world.

It’s the idea that when your school has a nearly century-long tradition based on the rationality of the free and efficient market, you hire the leading behavioral economist whose entire goal is to challenge and disrupt your assumptions.

That is Chicago Booth.

Professor Richard Thaler’s Nobel Prize recognizes his over four decades of relentless work to make economics a more human and practical science, work that has truly changed the way we think about how people make decisions.

But it also speaks volumes about what makes Chicago Booth such a special place to be, and why we’re proud to be here.

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