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Message from President Seligman on Alumnus Richard Thaler Being Awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences

I am delighted to report that Richard Thaler, who received both a master’s degree (1970) and a PhD (1974) in economics from the School of Arts & Sciences at the University of Rochester, was earlier today awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his contributions to behavioral economics. Richard began his academic career at what is now the Simon Business School. For many years he has been a distinguished faculty member of the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago.

Many of you may recall Richard from his appearance at a Presidential Symposium here in 2009, or when he received an Honorary Doctor of Science degree at our Commencement in 2010. He is a leader in the field of behavioral economics, which spans economics and psychology, and is the author of several popular works, including Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness, co-written with Harvard Law School Professor Cass Sunstein; and Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics.

Richard has been a leader in this transformation of how we think about economics and human behavior. His work has been deeply influential, exploring how people make economic decisions and helping to explain how seemingly irrational decisions in fact have a sound psychological basis. Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, a professor at Princeton University, has characterized Richard as a “creative genius.” Yale Professor Robert Shiller, a behavioral economist who received the Nobel Prize in 2013, has observed that  “Richard Thaler has been at the center of the most important revolution to happen in economics in the last thirty years.”

Richard’s work has also had practical and local benefits. For example, when the University of Rochester recently took steps to reduce the number of retirement plan choices, we were mindful of his scholarship, which demonstrates that for many individuals too many choices leads to no choice at all.

As Richard wrote at the conclusion of Misbehaving, he is “entirely optimistic about the future of economics. One sign that I find particularly encouraging is that economists who do not identify themselves as ‘behavioral’ wrote some of the best behavioral economic papers published in recent years.  These economists simply do solid economic work and let the chips fall where they may.” 

The University is proud to salute our alumnus, Nobel laureate Richard Thaler. We join with many around the world in congratulating him on this significant recognition of his intellectual achievements.