Nobel Prizes aren't what they used to be

Bob Dylan may be rich already, but the rest of this year's Nobel Prize winners may be wishing they'd won the award a few years ago.

This year, the six Nobel Prizes each came with 8 million Swedish krona, or a little over $900,000 total. When that prize is converted to dollars each year and adjusted for inflation, American winners of the prize will find that they're making less than any winner since 1988.

Of course, the real prize is being selected as one of the people who "during the preceding year have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind," as stipulated in Alfred Nobel's will. The winners are selected through a rigorous nomination process that begins a year earlier.

Since Nobel left his estate to the Nobel Foundation and asked that they be invested in "safe securities," his initial 31-million krona investment ($3.52 million) has grown to more than 4 billion krona ($454 million), according to foundation records.

The nominal amount given to each winner typically has increased over time, but the foundation cut the awards by 20 percent in 2012 after the global recession left the fund's growth flat for a few years. The best year in the last few decades to win an Nobel was in 2004, when each one was worth about $1.9 million.

This year's winners include David J. Thouless, Duncan M. Haldane and J. Michael Kosterlitz for physics, Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Sir J. Fraser Stoddart and Bernard L Feringa for chemistry, Yoshinori Ohsumi for physiology, Bob Dylan for literature, Juan Manuel Santos for the Peace Prize and Oliver Hard and Bengt Holmstrom for economics.

Santos, who the peace prize for his efforts to broker an end to Colombia's long-running insurgent war, told the BBC that he would donate the money that comes with the prize to victims of the conflict. President Obama also gave his $1.4 million Nobel Peace Prize to charity in 2009, as did the Dalai Lama in 1989.

For some Americans, donating the money can help them avoid a hefty tax bill. The U.S. is one of the few countries in the world that taxes the Nobel like any other income (at least since the Reagan tax reforms of the 1980s). But even if that rate is close to 40 percent, the remaining prize money isn't a bad sum for people who have done some good in the world.