The picturesque town of Lindau, Germany, on the eastern shore of the Bodensee (Lake Constance), was the setting for four days of lectures and seminars that recently brought together 19 Nobel laureates and 360 pre- and early post-Ph. D. economists from 51 nations. This year Clarivate Analytics became a Principle Benefactor of this event, as well as of an earlier meeting focusing on chemistry, held in late June.
Two physicians from Lindau established the meetings in 1951 with a little help from Count Lennart Bernadotte, the owner and resident of Mainau Island, which lies only a few miles northwest of their town. As brother of the King of Sweden, the Count was able to elicit some royal influence that encouraged Nobel Prize recipients to sign on to this new venture. The physicians sought to restore ties between German researchers and the rest of the scientific community which had broken down during the Second World War and continued unrestored in the early post-war years.
To date some 32,000 young scientists have attended Lindau-Nobel Laureate Meetings, whose motto is “Educate, Inspire, Connect.” The mission: to bring together both the younger generation with the older as well as individuals of the younger from around the world with one another.
One might think that the presence of so many Nobel laureates and hundreds of excited young people would deplete all available oxygen at the event, but it was not so. Enter Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank, who took center stage. He opened the meeting with a speech on the important role of research by economists in supplying central bankers with empirical evidence and important theory from which they can draw in shaping their choices on monetary policy. In other words, he encouraged the young economists that their work really matters and has real-world consequences.
The day before, the author participated in a forum on innovation addressing the question of whether we are entering a new era of protectionism that threatens continuing globalization. The attendees were a select group of 40, including Nobel laureates, business leaders such as Werner Baumann, CEO of Bayer, and prominent figures from the government sector, including W. Michael Blumenthal, Treasury Secretary of the United States during the Carter presidency, and Stephen S. Poloz, current Governor of the Bank of Canada.
Scientific research and the mobility of researchers as a main driver of innovation was central to the discussion, moderated by Australian National University President, 2011 Nobel Prize recipient in Physics, and Clarivate Analytics Citation Laureate Brian P. Schmidt. An open, truly global science was universally endorsed among discussants.
The role of performance metrics was raised and whether these inhibited globalization by emphasizing elites in specific nations and institutions to the detriment of those at an earlier stage of development. The 2007 Nobel laureate in economics, Eric S. Maskin of Harvard University, defended the use of quantitative measures of research performance, including citation-based rankings. He described how, having served as an academic advisor to universities in China and in Russia, he was convinced that standard performance measures have helped universities in these two countries focus and improve upon key aspects of their research and educational activities.
For three days the meeting offered lectures by Nobel Prize laureates in the morning. Each spoke on a theme of his own choosing. The talks ranged from uncertainty in climate change models by Professor Lars Peter Hansen of the University of Chicago, to the effects of automation on employment by Professor Sir Chris A. Pissarides of the London School of Economics, to a better method for choosing a US president by Professor Maskin. He addressed the consequence of vote splitting in primaries and two possible modifications: majority and rank-order counting when voters express more than one preference.
Each day, after a lunch break, the young economists and the laureates would reassemble in three different locations for seminars concerning macroeconomics, microeconomics, and applied microeconomics in which a half dozen or more of the young economists presented their research in brief and received criticism and guidance from the Nobelists – something like a master class for musicians.
The fourth day of the conference, Saturday, was designed to bring the experience of the attendees to a crescendo. It entailed — as these conferences always do – a morning boat trip from the harbor of Lindau to Mainau Island. Upon arrival at the island all disembarked and followed walkways through botanical displays and up a hill to the Bernadotte family castle.
An outdoor pavilion, next to the castle, was the site for a special panel discussion by Nobel laureates and a selected young researcher. This year’s theme: “What should we do about inequality?” Professor Torsten Persson, Secretary of the Economic Sciences Prize Committee at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, moderated the panel.
The conclusion of the discussion signaled the beginning of relaxation to be followed by celebration. First, the Nobel laureates, young researchers, and sponsors gathered for a picnic in a grassy area under magnificent large trees and amid a variety of beautiful plants and flowers. As the sun moved to the west side of the island, the shadows lengthened and it was time for all to gather at the entrance of the castle to say goodbye. There was an expression of thanks from the young economists to their hosts, a further word of encouragement and inspiration from a Nobel laureate, and a fond send-off from Countess Bettina Bernadotte.
And then the real fun got started. Back on the boat, the returnees were greeted by a band, food and drinks, and a dance floor that plainly encouraged “animal spirits.” Lest anyone think of economics as the “dismal science,” there is strong evidence to the contrary.
On the dance floor was the 2004 Nobel laureate from the University of California Santa Barbara Finn E. Kydland wearing a t-shirt that said “Less is More,” but he failed to take his own advice. His co-recipient, Edward C. Prescott of Arizona State University, made some nuanced moves to “Long Tall Sally.” But it was the 2014 Nobel Prize recipient, Jean Tirole, honored “for his analysis of market power and regulation,” who really got his groove thing on.
And the young economists loved it!