The man who is lauded for being lazy

If you called economist Richard Thaler lazy today, he would agree heartily with you.

But in his earlier days, he once despaired when his old friend and mentor Daniel Kahneman, a 2002 Nobel economics laureate famous for his 2011 book Thinking, Fast And Slow, said that "the best thing about Thaler, what really makes him special, is that he is lazy".

Thaler, who turns 70 on Sept 12, recalls in his new book, Misbehaving: "What? Really? I would never deny being lazy, but did Danny think that my laziness was my single best quality?... To this day, Danny insists it was a high compliment. My laziness, he claims, means I only work on questions that are intriguing enough to overcome this default tendency of avoiding work."

Thaler was born in New Jersey to an actuary and a teacher-turned- homemaker. After earning his bachelor's from Cleveland's Case Western Reserve University and master's and doctoral degrees from the University of Rochester in upstate New York, the sharp, irreverent and intuitive Thaler had teaching and research stints at the universities of Stanford and Cornell as well as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Business.

The twice-married father of three kicks back by tasting wines with his second wife France Leclerc, a former marketing professor at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business, where Thaler teaches.

As his fellow economist David Laibson of Harvard University told the Chicago Tribune in April 2012: "During most of the 1980s, he was dismissed as a crank. It takes a lot of courage to get over decades of rejections and to stick to your guns. Dick kept fighting and eventually almost everyone came around to his view."

Now, Thaler's admirers and detractors alike are tipping him for the Nobel memorial prize in Economics.

As Kahneman told the Chicago Tribune in April 2012: "If you want to tease him, you'll say he's lazy, but if you want to praise him, you'll say he has very good taste in problems. He's very selective in the things he invests energy in."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 30, 2015, with the headline 'The man who is lauded for being lazy'. Print Edition | Subscribe