Thomas J. Sargent

Banquet speech

Thomas J. Sargent’s speech at the Nobel Banquet in the Stockholm City Hall, 10 December 2011.

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, My Teachers, My Students, and My Students Who Have Become My Teachers:

My good and dear friend Chris Sims and I thank you for recognizing the many women and men like us who use statistics and economic theory to understand how governments and markets can improve peoples’ lives. I state 7 practical lessons taught by my beautiful subject, which investigates the consequences of time and chance and cooperation and competition and foresight and incentives.

1. Many things that are desirable are not feasible. (Carolyn)

2. There are tradeoffs between equality and efficiency.

3. Other people have more information about their abilities, their efforts, and their preferences than you do.

4. Everyone responds to incentives, including people you want to help. That is why social safety nets don’t always work as intended.

5. When a government spends, its citizens eventually pay, either today or tomorrow, either through explicit taxes or implicit ones like inflation and defaults on debts.

6. It is feasible for one generation to shift costs to subsequent ones. National government debts and the U.S. social security system do that.

7. Most people want other people to pay for public goods and government transfers (especially transfers to themselves).

I’d like to thank Sweden for welcoming us and for being a country that values learning and education and people who read books and try to write better ones.

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 2011

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