Commentary Magazine


American Exceptionalism

The winners of the Nobel Prize in economics were announced today. They are two Americans, Elinor Ostrom of Indiana University and Oliver Williamson of UC Berkeley.

So now that all the 2009 prizes have been awarded, let’s recap: The Nobel in medicine went to three Americans. The Nobel in physics went to three Americans. The Nobel in chemistry went to two Americans and one Israeli. The Nobel in literature went to a German. The Nobel Peace Prize went to an American, and now the Nobel in economics has gone to two Americans.

Thus, of the 13 winners this year, 11 are Americans. A country with 4 percent of the world’s population produced 85 percent of the winners. To be sure, we are to some extent playing with numbers here. After all, Israel, with .08 percent of the world’s population, produced 7 percent of the winners. But over the 108 years they have been handing out Nobel Prizes, the number won by American citizens is exceptionally large.

I wonder if that fact embarrasses this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner.