University alumnus wins Nobel Prize for economics research

Lars Peter Hansen is one of a growing list of University-affiliated economists to be honored.

Bryna Godar

A group of prominent economics professors were known as the “four horsemen” during their time at the University of Minnesota, and all except one have gone on to win Nobel Prizes for economics.

This year, one of their students, Lars Peter Hansen, followed in their footsteps and joined two other American professors in receiving the award Monday for research on asset prices.

In addition to Hansen, now a University of Chicago professor, the trio included fellow University of Chicago professor Eugene Fama, 74, and Yale University professor Robert Shiller, 67, who was an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota from 1972-74.

The University’s Department of Economics boasts a growing list of Nobel ties, including former faculty members and students.

“Lars Peter Hansen is one of our own, and, once again, we proudly celebrate a Nobel Prize won by another of our remarkable alumni,” University President Eric Kaler said in a statement.

Hansen, 60, received his doctorate in economics from the University in 1978 under the mentorship of Christopher Sims and Thomas Sargent, two of the “four horsemen.”

“They were the ones that were really prominent in the profession and getting a lot of attention nationally and internationally,” said Edward Foster, a retired University professor.

Foster said Hansen is the first student of “those guys” to go on to win a Nobel Prize.

“It feels great for Tom and me to have won together and then for a student of ours to have won,” said Sims, who is now a professor at Princeton University. “It’s a great feeling.”

Hansen was recognized for developing statistical models for testing theories of asset pricing — things like stocks, housing and bonds.

“He’s a very careful and honest researcher. You can be sure that he won’t oversell his results,” Sims said. “And he’s also very technically powerful. He’s always at the frontier of research in the areas he’s working in.”

Sargent, now a professor at New York University, said Hansen is very generous with his ideas and is a great teacher.

“He’s a scholar’s scholar. He’s very smart, extremely hard-working,” Sargent said. “When he was at Minnesota, he took math classes, and people in the math department wanted him to get a math degree.”

Shiller only worked at the University for two years at the beginning of his career.

“His office was two doors down from mine, and I have always been interested in his work,” said Craig Swan, a retired University economics professor. “I think it’s a well-deserved honor.”

Shiller was recognized for his research on stock price fluctuation.

“I thought he was wonderful, and he had some really important ideas, even in those days,” said Sargent, who helped hire him at the University.

The University’s economics department also lists connections with alumnus Daniel McFadden, who won the Nobel Prize in 2000, Edward Prescott, one of the “four horsemen,” who won in 2004, and former faculty member Leonid Hurwicz, who won the Nobel Prize in 2007 while still at the University.

“It reflects very well on the way that the department functioned then,” Foster said. “And since there’s continuing spillover, it helps attract faculty, and it helps attract students to have Nobel Prizes associated with the place.”