The UC System announces second faculty member to receive Nobel Prize of 2021

Courtesy of UC Berkeley via Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-3.0

The UC Office of the President has announced a second 2021 Nobel-Prize laureate from the UC system. David Card, a labor economist at UC Berkeley, was awarded the Nobel Prize in economic sciences for his studies that challenged the conventional ideas of low-wage jobs and how they relate to immigration, education and job availability. This follows another UC laureate announcement from earlier this year when biochemist David Julius of UC San Francisco won the Nobel Prize in physiology for his discoveries on the body’s nervous system pain-receptors.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the organization that awards the economics prize, credited Card “for his empirical contributions to labour economics.” He shares the prize with Joshua Angrist of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Guido Imbens of Stanford University. 

Since the 1990s, Card has been researching the true impacts of immigrant work on native U.S. workers and the interrelatedness of minimum-wage increase and low-wage domestic jobs. His research is significant in that it does not just alter common judgements of immigration and low-wage jobs, but the judgements of other professional economists on the topic. 

UC President Michael V. Drake congratulated Card, stating, “For decades, Professor Card’s analyses of complex economic systems have provided critical insights into the minimum wage, education, inequality and more. His research continues to shape important discussions about programs and policies affecting workers and students across this country and reflects UC’s commitment to generating new knowledge that serves the public good.”

Chairman Peter Fredriksson of the Prize Committee commented that Card “helped to answer important questions for society” and that he “challenged conventional wisdom,” which led to “new studies and additional insights.”

When Card first received the message of his win over the phone, he described himself to be in disbelief, thinking that his friends were pulling a joke on him — even though the caller identification was shown to be from Sweden. 

He describes his contributions to be “pretty modest” and that his goal was to “oversimplify” the complex fractions of economics, whereas “most old-fashioned economists,” as he calls them, tend to approach it very theoretically.

One example of his research examined the situation of minimum-wage increase in New Jersey, in which he found that the impact of the wage increase did not decrease domestic job availability. Beforehand, it was widely assumed by economists that it did.

The UC system’s earlier recipient of the Nobel Prize in medicine, David Julius, along with Ardem Patapoutian of the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, won the prize after a series of studies that identified the protein class TRP ion channels as the “key player” in the human body’s pain reception. For this, he and Patapoutian were awarded “for their discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch” by the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute, which oversees the Nobel Prize in medicine.

According to the Nobel Laureates of the University of California website, his studies involved “chilli peppers, tarantula venom and other natural products” and how they “trigger sensations of heat, cold and pain.” His ideas brought from the study can further contribute to the topic of pain therapy and the development of non-addictive painkillers.

Run by the Royal Swedish Academy under King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, the Nobel Prizes are considered as one of, if not the most, important pieces of recognition in the Western Hemisphere. Since 1901, their goal has been to identify those who make groundbreaking revelations and contributions that serve humanity for the greatest good. The six categories of the Nobel Prize are literature, peace, physics, physiology or medicine, chemistry and economics.

The UC system alone has 71 awards in total belonging to 70 faculty members. The first ever recipient was Ernest O. Lawrence, laureate of the 1939 physics prize for his invention of the cyclotron. The most recent laureates before Card and Julius are Jennifer Doudna of UC Berkeley for the prize in chemistry and Andrea Ghez of UC Los Angeles for the physics prize, who were awarded in 2020. Ghez is the fourth woman in history to be awarded the physics prize.

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