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“A long time coming”: SIEPR colleagues laud Milgrom’s Nobel win

The prize cements not only Milgrom's legacy as a ground-breaking economist, but also his impact on public policy and dedication to nurturing new generations of economic scholars.

Paul Milgrom’s Nobel win on Monday cements not only his legacy as a ground-breaking economist, but also his impact on public policy and dedication to nurturing new generations of economic scholars.

Long considered a contender for the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, the SIEPR senior fellow was awarded the honor along with another Stanford economist, Robert Wilson, for their work in developing auction theory and helping shepherd it into practice. 

“Finally,” was the first word of an early morning congratulatory blog post from Alvin Roth, another SIEPR senior fellow who won the prize in 2012. 

“They didn’t just hit the ball; they ran out there and caught it,” Roth said. “They changed the way we understand auctions.”

Gopi Shah Goda, SIEPR’s Deputy Director, was a first-year-graduate student in one of Milgrom’s classes in 2003. Even then, she recalls, there was so much expectation that Milgrom would win a Nobel that it became a source for some good-natured ribbing.

During an annual economics department get-together, Shah Goda participated in a skit depicting Milgrom waiting for a call from the Nobel Prize committee.

“The skit had him waiting and waiting and waiting for the phone to ring, but it never did,” she said. And that slice of satire proved ironic: Milgrom missed the early morning call from the Nobel committee on Monday. The news was instead delivered by Wilson, who lives across the street and woke up his neighbor by ringing his doorbell

Here are how a few of Milgrom’s other SIEPR colleagues reacted to the news. 

Mark Duggan, the Trione Director of SIEPR: 

“Paul has been a force in public policy. It’s an honor to have him as a colleague and senior fellow at SIEPR, and this win with Bob is incredibly well deserved. They have had such a tremendous impact.” 

Greg Rosston, the Gordon Cain Senior Fellow at SIEPR:

“Paul and Bob set the stage for the first-ever spectrum auctions in the U.S. with their innovative design. Not only did they have an ingenious design, they worked to improve it and solve issues pointed out by others that improved the design. After the successful early auctions, Milgrom continued to be involved in spectrum policy and continued to advise the FCC on improving its processes, culminating in the recent Incentive Auction to move spectrum from over-the-air broadcast television to more valuable flexible mobile broadband use. The combination of theory and practice advanced auction design and allowed for much better implementation of auctions around the world.  They are also both able to explain their complicated work in terms that make it understandable.” 

Susan Athey, SIEPR Senior Fellow:

“Paul Milgrom was an incredible inspiration as an advisor. His mind is practically incapable of making a logical error; he sees ideas instantly, crystallizes the key elements, and translates them into precise mathematics before you have finished your sentence.  At first, frankly, this was a bit terrifying, since he could understand and build upon something I’d spent days on, in seconds.  But the thing that makes him a great advisor was that he is so joyful and enthusiastic in the process, that the positive energy helps you forget the insecurity and just focus on the problem at hand.” 

John Shoven, SIEPR Senior Fellow, emeritus:

“Both of these guys were long overdue. Somebody who would’ve been incredibly happy today would be Kenneth Arrow (another Nobel-winning Stanford economist who died in 2017). He’s somebody who thought Paul and Bob long deserved the Nobel, and would definitely be saying `they got what they deserved.’ This has certainly been a long time coming.”

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