The Best of Intentions: Hope Sweeps the Field in Peace and Economics

By Watson, Russell | Newsweek, October 26, 1998 | Go to article overview

The Best of Intentions: Hope Sweeps the Field in Peace and Economics


Watson, Russell, Newsweek


Nobel prize winners aren't al-ways vindicated by subsequent events. In 1973, Henry Kissinger shared the peace prize for negotiating an end to the Vietnam War--which then went on for another two years, destroying South Vietnam. In 1997, the economics prize went to Robert Merton and Myron Scholes, who were partners in a giant hedge fund, Long-Term Capital Management, that turned out to be spectacularly wrong about this year's financial trends. Unlike the hard sciences, such as physics or chemistry, peace and economics are soft subjects in which winners sometimes become losers. Last week the 1998 peace prize honored a work in progress, the promising but still incomplete effort to end a generation of strife in Northern Ireland. And the economics prize offered a timely reminder that free markets aren't always a universal blessing.

John Hume, a 61-year-old Catholic politician, and David Trimble, a 54-year-old Protestant leader, shared the peace prize for promoting Ulster's Good Friday Agreement. Hume was an obvious choice for the prize. Leader of the Social Democratic and Labor Party, he was described by the Nobel committee as "the clearest and most consistent of Northern Ireland's political leaders in his work for a peaceful solution." The agreement succeeded partly because of the chemistry between Hume and Trimble, leader of the Ulster Union- ist Party and until recently a hard-line opponent of compromise. Trimble's conversion into an advocate of accommodation "showed great political courage," the committee said. If Hume's vision shaped the Good Friday accord, it was Trimble's energetic support that sold it to Ulster's Protestant majority in a referendum last May.

"I very much hope that this award doesn't turn out to be premature," Trimble said in Denver, where he was trying to drum up investment in Northern Ireland. …

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