R. Duncan Luce has been elected fellow of the Econometric Society in the year 2009.  He is 84.  How could it take so long?

Here’s a model.  There is a large set of economists and each year you have to decide which to admit to a select group of “fellows.”  Assume away the problems of committee decision-making and say that an economist will be admitted if his achievements are above some standard.  The problem is that there are many economists and its costly to investigate each one to see if they pass the bar.

So you pick a shortlist of candidates who are contenders and you investigate those.  Some pass, some don’t.  Now, the next problem is that there are many fellows and many non-fellows and its hard to keep track of exactly who is in and who is out.  And again it’s costly to go and check every vita to find out who has not been admitted yet.

So when you pick your shortlist, you are including only economists who you think are not already fellows.  Someone like Duncan Luce, who certainly should have been elected 30 years ago most likely was elected 30 years ago so you would never consider putting him on your shortlist.

Indeed, the simple rule of thumb you would use is to focus on young people for your shortlist.  Younger economists are more likely to be both good enough and not already fellows.