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Harvard Economics Professor Oliver Hart Wins Joint Nobel Prize

By Mia C. Karr, Crimson Staff Writer

Economics professor Oliver Hart became the most recent in a long line of Harvard faculty members to earn the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, receiving the award in conjunction with MIT professor Bengt Holmström “for their contributions to contract theory."

In total, 49 Harvard faculty and alumni have won Nobel Prizes, beginning as early as 1914.Of those 49 Nobel Prizes, 10 have been in Economics. Most recently for the department, Alvin E. Roth received the prize in 2012, shortly before departing for Stanford University—as several other of his colleagues have done in recent years.

"Hart’s findings on incomplete contracts have shed new light on the ownership and control of businesses and have had a vast impact on several fields of economics, as well as political science and law," read a press release from the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts and Sciences, the body that awards the Nobel Prize.

Economics professor Eric S. Maskin ’72, who himself received the Economics Nobel Prize in 2007 and has collaborated with Hart on several papers, lauded his “old friend.”

“I’ve been waiting for this for years, because he has been well-known for many years now and he could well have won well before now,” Maskin said.

Economics Department Chair David I. Laibson ’88 said the announcement was welcome news for the entire department.

“It’s incredibly exciting for all of us on so many different levels” he said. “Clearly we know the work. It is breathtaking research and scholarship and we are so excited to see it recognized in this way, both at the personal level because we love our colleague dearly and at the professional level because we think this work is really important and transformative.”

Hart first joined Harvard’s faculty in 1993 after teaching at M.I.T. According to the University’s course catalog, he currently teaches several classes primarily for graduate students as well as a freshman seminar in the spring, FRSEMR 42C: “The Role of Government.”

“It was obvious at the time that Professor Hart was brilliant but I wasn’t aware of how brilliant until it was legitimized in this external way,” Benjamin Delsman ’19, who took Hart’s seminar last spring, said.

Delsman added that Hart made himself very accessible to his students, and even arranged a dinner outing with the seminar students at the restaurant Dumpling House.

Maskin, who is familiar with the post-Nobel Prize experience, said Hart can expect to play a more public role and be called on to address non-economists. However, Maskin added that many aspects of his job did not change following his receipt of the award.

“I still put teaching and research at the top of the list, and I expect Oliver will do the same,” he said.

In the wake of the announcement, Laibson said he took Hart out to lunch and will hold a celebration for Hart Tuesday in University Hall.

“It’s such a pleasure for me, as a colleague, to celebrate his life’s work in this way,” Laibson said. “It’s a joy to be with him and to feel his happiness.”

Most recently before Hart, Harvard chemistry professor emeritus Martin Karplus ’51 won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2013.

—Staff writer Mia C. Karr can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @miackarr.

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