The Nobel Prizes are a Crock

obama-nobel-prize-medalThe Nobel prizes are a crock — and I’m not saying that because I haven’t won one yet. They just are.

I’m not talking about the prizes for physics, chemistry and medicine. They may be a crock too, but I am not qualified to judge.  The prizes for economics certainly must be a crock, because economics is not a science. Two distinguished economists can differ radically on a single, basic economic theory, and they often do.  They can make widely different predictions about an economic outcome, and both be wrong. People in the real sciences scorn the Nobel committee for even offering an economics prize. The economics awards should be included in a multi-disciplinary category that also includes astrology and necromancy.

However, what bothers me most are the Nobel prizes for literature. There are some exceptions to the rule, but by and large the Nobel committee tends to award the literature prize to writers who are unfamiliar to 99.999 percent of the world’s population. The prize for literature should actually be called the prize for obscurity.

Look at these names of Nobel literature prizewinners, snatched at random from the historical listing helpfully provided by the World Almanac: Bjornstjerne Bjornson, Henryk Sienkiewicz, Verner von Heidenstam, Henrik Pontoppidan, Grazia Deledda, Wladys Reymont, Erik Karlfeldt, Frans Sillanpaa, Johannes Jensen, Halidor Laxness, Saint-John Perse, Wole Soyinka.

Go ahead, tell me that these authors were staples in the literature courses taught at your colleges. Tell me that they all command a place on the eye-level shelves of the most prominent bookcase in your living room.

Should one be suspicious because so many of the prizewinners are from the Scandinavian countries? The home of the Nobel Prizes, after all, is Oslo, Norway. One of the better-known prizewinners for  literature was Knut Hamsun, a Norwegian, who won in 1920. He would be well-known today if only because he was an outspoken Nazi sympathizer. He once had a private meeting with Hitler, and apparently he was so insistent and obnoxious that even Hitler couldn’t stand his company.

As with the economics prize, perhaps there should be no prize at all for peace, although of course there is one. The winner in 2009 was Barack (“I Got Bin Laden”) Obama, orchestrator of our wars in Libya  and Yemen.  When Obama received this award, during his very first year as president, there were some silly naysayers who thought it was too early for such a selection. How could they be so wrong?

How can there be a peace prize, really? Does anyone recall any time in the history of the world when there was peace?  Why not rename it the Nobel Prize for futility? I would be willing to give that prize to Obama.

Author Bio:

Arthur Louis spent more than forty years as a print journalist, with the Philadelphia Inquirer, McGraw-Hill, Fortune magazine and the San Francisco Chronicle, but he is not asking for sympathy. He is the author of two non-fiction books: The Tycoons, and Journalism and Other Atrocities, as well as a novel, The Little Champ. In retirement, he has decided unilaterally that he is a profound political pundit.
Author website:
  • Stephen17

    Hmmmm. I’m not arguing here that Vargas Llosa and Paz are the equivalent of Shakespeare. But they are very good (who in the world is better?), and anyway the point of the prize is to bestow it on the best around–if there are no Shakespeares writing today, the prize still should (save in exceptionally poor circumstances) be bestowed on someone. I’d also put it the other way round: I think that the Nobel Committee usually selects a worthy recipient, with the occasional exception. But Kipling, Steinbeck, Undset, Faulkner are all–in addition to the folk I mentioned earlier–wise choices. Elias Canetti? Maybe he’s an exception, as are the folk you mentioned earlier, though his memoirs are possibly good enough to qualify him. I do agree, however, that giving the Peace Prize to President Obama and Al Gore is plain ridiculous. Let’s see how peaceful Afghanistan is a year from now (Iraq today may be their future).

  • Stephen17

    As a dyed-in-the -wool movement conservative of three and a half decades, I couldn’t disagree more. In the 1920s Sigrid Undset won for her Kristen Lavransdattir trilogy–a more searching examination of the complexities of the world (primarily of love) from a Christian point of view can hardly be imagined. In recent years, we’ve had Octavio Paz and Mario Vargas Llosa, early Marxists both, who were honest enough over time not only to give up their utopian fantasies but to speak out strongly against Communism during the Cold War and beyond. Vargas Llosa in particular is the single best writer alive today on the importance of freedom, capitalism, and free institutions in Latin American countries. Herta Müller, who won a couple of years ago, left Communist Rumania, and in such books as The Appointment writes about the totalitarian horror of the Ceaucescu regime. One could go on. TheCommittee has made some odd choices in the past, no doubt, but its Prize for Literature is far from being as silly as its Prize for Peace has recently been.

    • artlouis

      Stephen, Notice that I used a sneaky escape hatch when I said that “there are some exceptions to the rule.” Let’s have this conversation again in fifty years, when we’ll discuss how your favorites look to posterity.

  • Wheels55

    I would be more interested in the Nobel Pizza Prize. Like the other prizes mentioned here, that is something based on personal preference. But at least it is more interesting than someone who thinks they have economics figured out (no one really does) or someone selected as the second coming.

    • artlouis

      Wheels, I am afraid they will screw that one up too. Pizza with live-worm topping, for example.

    • 1389AD

      At least pizza is useful! We could run the whole thing on the Food Network.

  • RickonhisHarleyJohnson

    I think the members of the Nobel prize committee moonlight as movie critics..

    • artlouis

      Rick, They should be picking the best movie, rather than the likes of Yasser Arafat for the peace prize.

    • mollymmm

      You’re too nice; I think they are on drugs or just plain major ignorant.

  • veeper

    Plans are in the works to rename the Nobel prize the “Kardashian Award” and have a TV awards program complete with red carpet interviews…

    michelle kardashian obama is the driving force behind this change.

    • artlouis


      Would Kim K. pick the best literature?

      • veeper


        Anything with a black Fabio on the cover…

  • PeterFitzwell

    Perhaps a Nobel Prize for irrational behavior should be awarded to the Nobel Prize committee.

    • artlouis

      Peter, Let’s give them one more chance. If they give Obama the prize for economics, they will show their hand.

      • fraudcop

        Don’t forget Eric Holder. He should get the Peace Prize for his efforts in gun control. Remember the outstanding accomplishments of FAST AND FURIOUS? Why, that program is still being talked about, years later. If there was an award given for the biggest criminal enterprise in government, the current Attorney General would be a shoe in….

        • artlouis

          If history is any guide, attorneys general are the most unlawful members of presidential cabinets. Holder is just following in that honorable tradition. I hope he is sent to occupy the John Mitchell memorial cellblock. A little first-hand research into the American penal system.

          • fraudcop

            So, in your opinion being in the position of U.S. Attorney General excuses criminal acts perpetrated by those in that position? Bad acts by those who came before should not be a policy manual as to how to conduct the office.

          • artlouis

            No, that is not my opinion. It is Holder’s, so far as I can tell. He is one in a line of AGs who considered themselves above the law.

      • fraudcop

        Only if barry has more General Mills cereal box tops than anyone else…….