Each year, the announcement of the Nobel Prize winners brings the remarkable achievements of a few individuals to the attention of the wider world. This year, the recipients of the prizes for Peace and Economic Sciences have made important contributions to our understanding of democracy, poverty and inequality, yet their work has remained relatively low profile until now. So who are these winners and why is their work important?
The Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, winners of the Peace Prize
Who are they? With Angela Merkel and the pope among the favourites to win the Peace Prize, this was an unexpected choice. The Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet is a coalition of four Tunisian civil society groups which formed in the summer of 2013. Initiated by the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), it also included their traditional rivals the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (UTICA), as well as the influential Tunisian Human Rights League and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers.
Following the Jasmine Revolution of 2010/11, democratic elections were held in Tunisia. However in the following period, the unpopular actions of the Islamist government and the appearance of extremist groups led to an increasingly unstable situation, which looked worryingly similar to that in Egypt shortly before its military coup. The quartet formed as this situation unfolded, with the intention of fostering dialogue between political parties and defusing the tense situation.
What have they achieved? The quartet drew up a plan of action to be signed by all Tunisian political parties. By signing, the parties committed themselves to several significant actions designed to enable peace in Tunisia. These included the resignation of the entire cabinet, to be re-formed by a new, nonpartisan prime minister.
The quartet used their economic clout, as well as the popular legitimacy they gained as a group standing outside of party politics, to force the parties to sign. In doing so they paved the way for a peaceful resolution of the tensions in Tunisia. The country still faces major challenges, yet the work of the Quartet has created a framework for these to be negotiated peacefully and democratically. “More than anything,” the Nobel Committee has stated, “the prize is intended as an encouragement to the Tunisian people.”
Angus Deaton, winner of the Prize in Economic Sciences
Who is he? Not to be confused with the comedian, Angus Deaton is a Scottish-American economist, whose research focuses primarily on the relationship between consumer choices, poverty and inequality. Born in Edinburgh, he has held academic posts at Cambridge, Bristol and now Princeton University, where he is still a professor.
What has he achieved? Through combining aggregate data on a national scale with analysis of individual households, Deaton has arrived at a groundbreaking understanding of consumer choices and how they relate to issues of income inequality. A particularly influential discovery is now known as the Deaton Paradox; it refers to the discovery that consumers often do not significantly change their consumption habits as the result of a pay rise or cut.
Deaton has carried out his research with a particular interest in how it relates to lower income countries and their paths to economic development. He is a vocal critic of foreign aid, arguing that money paid directly to foreign governments removes their need to seek consent from the people they govern. He maintains that poor people living in these countries will only gain better standards of living through the creation of effective government. Poverty and inequality cannot be measured through analysis of money alone, he states; other measures such as healthcare, education and the effectiveness of the regulatory system must also be taken into account.
Much of Deaton’s research sounds familiar, yet this is simply because it has hugely influenced our understanding of poverty and development. It has also influenced public policy. When awarding the prize, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said that “to design economic policy that promotes welfare and reduces poverty, we must first understand individual consumption choices.” Deaton’s research, much of it pioneering innovative methods, has allowed a better understanding of which courses of action by governments will best alleviate poverty.
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