Thaler's road to the Nobel: a multimedia essay (by Rachael Nass, Class of 2021)

For many years, the newest Nobel Laureate in Economics, Richard Thaler, was considered a heretic by other economists. As Roger Lowenstein wrote in The New York Times in 2001, “Thaler's own thesis adviser lamented that he had wasted a promising career on trivialities like cashews.” Today we glimpse into the passions and people that made Thaler both an economic reject and winner of the most prestigious award in the field.

Thaler pictured with long-time friend and fellow Nobel prize winner, Daniel Kahneman. When asked to describe Thaler in an interview (again with Roger Lowenstein), Kahneman replied, “The best thing about Thaler, what really makes him special, is that he is lazy,” to which he meant Thaler only works on projects that are intriguing enough to warrant effort. Thaler later reiterated this quote in the his book Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics. Source: www.edge.org

Thaler pictured with long-time friend and fellow Nobel prize winner, Daniel Kahneman. When asked to describe Thaler in an interview (again with Roger Lowenstein), Kahneman replied, “The best thing about Thaler, what really makes him special, is that he is lazy,” to which he meant Thaler only works on projects that are intriguing enough to warrant effort. Thaler later reiterated this quote in the his book Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics. Source: www.edge.org

Left: Thaler and co-author and long-time friend, Cass Sunstein, discuss Nudge, at their favorite lunch spot where the book was born, Noodles Etc. in Hyde Park. Right: Sunstein, Thaler, and Kahneman at an event in honor of Thaler in 2015. Source: @CassSunstein (Right)

Left: Thaler and co-author and long-time friend, Cass Sunstein, discuss Nudge, at their favorite lunch spot where the book was born, Noodles Etc. in Hyde Park. Right: Sunstein, Thaler, and Kahneman at an event in honor of Thaler in 2015. Source: @CassSunstein (Right)

Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein reminisce at their favorite Hyde Park lunch spot, Noodles, where they say they did some of their best work on the book.

Left: Thaler cringes about the fact that lights at the Booth London campus are switched on by counterintuitively pressing down not up. Right: Thaler poses with doors in Booth’s London campus that have pull bars on both sides of the door, causing people to pull on the push side. Thaler was a big advocate of adding signs that note whether to push or pull above the handles, a “real world” application of his mantra, “Make It Easy!” Source: Linnea Gandhi.

Left: Thaler cringes about the fact that lights at the Booth London campus are switched on by counterintuitively pressing down not up. Right: Thaler poses with doors in Booth’s London campus that have pull bars on both sides of the door, causing people to pull on the push side. Thaler was a big advocate of adding signs that note whether to push or pull above the handles, a “real world” application of his mantra, “Make It Easy!” Source: Linnea Gandhi.

A big sports fan, Thaler has studied the irrational (“Non-Econ”) behavior in baseball, basketball, soccer, and football. On the left, he’s pictured with psychologist Thomas Gilovich at a Yankees game. On the right, the top ten reasons not to take his Managerial Decision Making class, presented to his Executive MBA students, including “Sports spoken here.” Sources: Unknown (right) and Linnea Gandhi (left).

A big sports fan, Thaler has studied the irrational (“Non-Econ”) behavior in baseball, basketball, soccer, and football. On the left, he’s pictured with psychologist Thomas Gilovich at a Yankees game. On the right, the top ten reasons not to take his Managerial Decision Making class, presented to his Executive MBA students, including “Sports spoken here.” Sources: Unknown (right) and Linnea Gandhi (left).

Left: Thaler and Professor Mike Gibbs battle in class over traditional economics vs behavioral economics. Right: Thaler and fellow Nobel prize winner Eugene Fama continue to debate, but with great respect for one another, and many debates take place on the golf course. Thaler has discussed in interviews that, despite shaking up the field, he still believes traditional economics provides a useful normative perspective. Sources: Linnea Gandhi (left) and Chicago Booth Review (right)

Left: Thaler and Professor Mike Gibbs battle in class over traditional economics vs behavioral economics. Right: Thaler and fellow Nobel prize winner Eugene Fama continue to debate, but with great respect for one another, and many debates take place on the golf course. Thaler has discussed in interviews that, despite shaking up the field, he still believes traditional economics provides a useful normative perspective. Sources: Linnea Gandhi (left) and Chicago Booth Review (right)

Thaler and wife France Leclerc discuss which shirt he should wear to interviews following his Nobel Prize win. Leclerc is an international photographer and former professor of marketing. Source: University of Chicago, Anne Ryan

Thaler and wife France Leclerc discuss which shirt he should wear to interviews following his Nobel Prize win. Leclerc is an international photographer and former professor of marketing. Source: University of Chicago, Anne Ryan

Thaler acted alongside Selena Gomez in the 2015 film “The Big Short.” Thaler tossed out the lines written by director and screenwriter Adam McKay and rewrote them the day before filming. Naturally, they included sports. Sources: original source unknown (left); The Big Short (right)

Thaler acted alongside Selena Gomez in the 2015 film “The Big Short.” Thaler tossed out the lines written by director and screenwriter Adam McKay and rewrote them the day before filming. Naturally, they included sports. Sources: original source unknown (left); The Big Short (right)

Thaler poses with his books The Winner’s Curse (1993), Nudge (2008), and Misbehaving (2015). Source: The University of Chicago

Thaler poses with his books The Winner’s Curse (1993), Nudge (2008), and Misbehaving (2015). Source: The University of Chicago

Caricature from an interview with Liam Halligan for The Spectator, which should really be an emoji. (Can someone work on making that happen?) Source: spectator.co.uk

Caricature from an interview with Liam Halligan for The Spectator, which should really be an emoji. (Can someone work on making that happen?) Source: spectator.co.uk

Thaler poses with students at the end of his EMBA Managerial Decision Making course. As observed by Adjunct Assistant Professor and teaching assistant to his MDM course, Linnea Gandhi, “He changes people's lives in remarkable ways. For example, his rules for good decision making are hilarious, but people actually write him years (even decades) later to say they've applied them to their marriage, job, kids, etc.” Photo credit: Jason Hu.

Thaler poses with students at the end of his EMBA Managerial Decision Making course. As observed by Adjunct Assistant Professor and teaching assistant to his MDM course, Linnea Gandhi, “He changes people's lives in remarkable ways. For example, his rules for good decision making are hilarious, but people actually write him years (even decades) later to say they've applied them to their marriage, job, kids, etc.” Photo credit: Jason Hu.

A HUGE thank you to Linnea Gandhi, Adjunct Assistant Professor and Managing Partner at BehavioralSight, for the suggestions, assistance, and anecdotes she provided for this article.