Defining Excellence: 70 Years of John Bates Clark Medals

37 Pages Posted: 21 Jul 2017 Last revised: 12 Feb 2019

See all articles by Beatrice Cherrier

Beatrice Cherrier

CNRS; University of Cergy-Pontoise - THEMA

Andrej Svorenčík

University of Mannheim - Department of Economics

Date Written: October 1, 2017


In 2017 the John Bates Clark Award turned 70, and the 39th medal was awarded. Often dubbed the “baby Nobel Prize,” widely discussed by economists and covered in the press, it has become a professional and public marker of excellence for economic research.

Yet, after three initial unanimous choices of laureates (Paul Samuelson, Kenneth Boulding, Milton Friedman), the award was increasingly challenged. The prize was not awarded in 1953, almost discontinued three times, the selection procedure and the age limit also created issues. We show how economists in these years disagreed over the definition of merit and excellence. Many young economists felt the prize was biased toward theory and asked for the establishment of a separate “Wesley Clair Mitchell award” for empirical and policy-oriented work. We examine how the committee on honors and awards reacted to critique on the lack of diversity of laureates in origins, affiliations, fields and methods, and we provide a quantitative analysis of the evolving profile of laureates.

Keywords: John Bates Clark Medal, Award, Excellence, Diversity, Merit, Privilege, Theory, Applied, American Economic Association

JEL Classification: B20, B30, C00, A10, A11, A14

Suggested Citation

Cherrier, Beatrice and Svorenčík, Andrej, Defining Excellence: 70 Years of John Bates Clark Medals (October 1, 2017). Available at SSRN: or

Beatrice Cherrier (Contact Author)

CNRS ( email )

3, rue Michel-Ange
Paris, 75794

University of Cergy-Pontoise - THEMA ( email )

33 boulevard du port
F-95011 Cergy-Pontoise Cedex, 95011

Andrej Svorenčík

University of Mannheim - Department of Economics ( email )

D-68131 Mannheim

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