Oliver Hart, Bengt Holmström Win Nobel Prize

in Economic Sciences for Research on Contract Theory

                     Oliver Hart
                     Bengt Holmström

Oliver Hart of Harvard and Bengt Holmström of MIT, both of whom have been NBER research associates for more than two decades, were awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for their contributions to analyzing incentives, institutions, and organizations in the field of economics known as "contract theory."

"Contract theory provides us with a general means of understanding contract design. One of the theory's goals is to explain why contracts have various forms and designs. Another goal is to help us work out how to draw up better contracts, thereby shaping better institutions in society," the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a statement announcing the award. "The contributions of this year's laureates are invaluable in helping us understand real-life contracts and institutions, as well as the potential pitfalls when designing new contracts."

The Academy cited a range of contexts in which contract theory provides key insights for understanding economic behavior and associated institutions. These include the tradeoff between providing insurance against adverse outcomes and maintaining incentives to take care, designing executive pay contracts that depend in part on corporate performance, deciding how to allocate property rights, and choosing between public and private provision of basic services. The Academy's full description of the laureates' contributions may be found at:

Hart is the Andrew E. Furer Professor of Economics at Harvard, and a research associate in two NBER programs—Corporate Finance and Law and Economics. He has been an NBER affiliate since 1990.

Holmström is the Paul A. Samuelson Professor of Economics at MIT, and a research associate in the NBER Corporate Finance program, which he joined in 1996. Between 1984 and 1986, he was also a research associate in the Labor Studies program. Both have been active in the NBER Working Group on Organizational Economics.

  Additional information:

  •   The popular scientific background and advanced scientific background of the award
  •  NBER papers by Oliver Hart
  •  NBER papers by Bengt Holmström

Hart and Holmström bring to twenty-six the number of current or past NBER research affiliates who have received the Nobel Prize: Angus Deaton, 2015; Lars Hansen and Robert Shiller, 2013; Alvin Roth, 2012; Thomas Sargent and Christopher Sims, 2011; Peter Diamond and Dale Mortenson, 2010; Paul Krugman, 2008; Edward C. Prescott and Finn Kydland, 2004; Robert F. Engle, 2003; Joseph E. Stiglitz, 2001; James J. Heckman and Daniel L. McFadden, 2000; Robert C. Merton and Myron S. Scholes, 1997; Robert E. Lucas, Jr., 1995; and the late: Robert W. Fogel, 1993; Gary S. Becker, 1992; George J. Stigler, 1982; Theodore W. Schultz, 1979; Milton Friedman, 1976; and Simon Kuznets, 1971. In addition, six current or past members of the NBER Board of Directors have received the Nobel Prize: George Akerlof, 2001; Robert Solow, 1987; and the late: William Vickrey, 1996; Douglass North, 1993; James Tobin, 1981; and Paul Samuelson, 1970.

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