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Decline Watch: U.S. continues Nobel dominance

There are few signs of the Amerislump in Stockholm. U.S. economists Thomas Sargent and Christopher Sims were awarded this year's Nobel Prize for Economics. This is the 11th straight year that at least one of the recipients of the economics prize has been American. All three of the physics winners this year and one of the medicine winners were also American. 

In terms of total, all-time Nobel wins, the United States has more than twice as many as any other country and as this chart from Flowing Data shows, that dominance has only increased in recent years. The glaring exception is the literature category, which no American has won since Toni Morrison in 1993. 

China is something of a Nobel underperformer. While there have been dozens of Nobel winners of Chinese descent, and Chinese birth, the only one who actually made his career in China was last year's Peace Prize winnder Liu Xiaobo, one that Beijing is not exactly proud of. 

Decline-o-meter: The U.S. has a formidable lead on this one. But keep in mind that this is something of a lagging indicator since, in the science categories, as opposed to the Peace Prize, awards are typically given for work done several years in the past rather than in the previous year.  

Also, the large number of immigrants and dual citizens who have won awards in the sciences suggests that the U.S. edge may be its ability to attract talent as much as its ability to produce it. The U.S. will need to continue to be a desirable destination for the best and the brightest if the streak is to continue. 

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Ellen's still working

Well next Tuesday's Liberian election certainly just got more interesting.

Thorbjorn Jagland of the Nowegian Nobel Committee says they didn't consider the fact that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is in a highly-constested race next week when they made their decision:

"We cannot look to that domestic consideration," he said. "We have to look at Alfred Nobel's will, which says that the prize should go to the person that has done the most for peace in the world."

With all due respect to Jagland, that's ridiculous. "Domestic considerations" are used all the time. What was Liu Xiaobo's award if not an explicit message to the Chinese government about its treatment of its own citizens. For better or worse, Liberian citizens are likely to take this as an endorsement.

Over the summer, I had the chance to travel to Liberia and interview some of the candidates running against Sirleaf. The point was not to attack the president, but to note that the Mandela-esque reputation she enjoys abroad, is not always shared back home, where opinions are more mixed.

I'm interested in knowing, for instance, whether the committee considered the fact that a Truth and Reconciliation Committee that Sirleaf herself established, accused her of providing material support for Charles Taylor's forces during the Liberian war and recommended that she be barred from holding office. 

And while Sirleaf's status as the first elected female leader in Africa is certainly historic -- it's presumably the reason why she was awarded along with women's rights activist Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman -- as Prue Clarke and Emily Schmall noted in their profile of the president in Newsweek last week, that hasn't always translated into gains for the women of Liberia.

As Sirleaf herself would likely admit, there's quite a bit of work left to be done to both to ensure economic self-sufficiency for Liberia, and ensure that peace can hold after the 12,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force leaves.

As I noted in my piece, the president has made the colloquial phrase, "Monkey still working, let baboon wait small" her campaign slogan. It's an appeal to Liberian voters to keep in mind that recovering from 20 years of civil war takes time, and they shouldn't make any quick decisions or judge her performance before she's completed her work. The Norwegian Nobel Committee might also have wanted to take that advice.

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