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At Stanford, A Late-Night Knock Brings Once-In-A-Lifetime News

Robert Wilson, left, and Paul Milgrom have been awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. (Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

When you’re up for a Nobel Prize and the decision is imminent, keep your phone by the bed.

That’s what Paul Milgrom learned after the news came that he had indeed won the prize — but not via a call from the Nobel Committee in Sweden, which could not reach him. Instead, Milgrom learned of the once-in-a-lifetime honor from his colleague and co-recipient Robert Wilson, when Wilson and his wife Mary knocked on Milgrom’s door.

The late-night exchange — Stockholm, after all, is nine hours ahead of Palo Alto — was captured by a doorcam video and shared on social media by the university.

Paul Milgrom. Stanford photo

Milgrom, an economist, has held the Shirley and Leonard Ely Professorship of Humanities and Sciences since 1987. He is a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. Wilson, his one-time mentor, is the Adams distinguished professor of management, emeritus; he joined the Stanford Graduate School of Business faculty in 1964. They are Stanford’s 18th and 19th living Nobel laureates; Wilson is the fourth Stanford GSB faculty member to win the prize.

Milgrom is not teaching at the GSB this semester, but Wilson is teaching two courses: Microeconomic Analyses II, on “the roles of information, incentives and strategic behavior in markets”; and Multiperson Decision Theory, in which “students and faculty review and present recent research papers on basic theories and economic applications of decision theory, game theory, and mechanism design.”

AWARD IS FOR ‘IMPROVEMENTS TO AUCTION THEORY & INVENTIONS OF NEW AUCTION FORMATS’

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which grants the Nobel prizes, awarded Milgrom and Wilson the $10 million Swedish kronor (about $1 million USD) prize, officially known as the “Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel,” for “improvements to auction theory and inventions of new auction formats.”

“Wilson and Milgrom are internationally known for their research and teaching on auction market design, pricing, negotiations and other topics concerning industrial organization and information economics,” according to a university news story about the award. “Together and individually, the pair have played an important role in auction designs and competitive bidding strategies for the communications, oil and power industries, and in the design of innovative pricing schemes. Wilson has also influenced a generation of younger economists, including Milgrom.”

In its statement on their victory, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences added that Milgrom and Wilson “have also used their insights to design new auction formats for goods and services that are difficult to sell in a traditional way, such as radio frequencies … Their discoveries have benefited sellers, buyers and taxpayers around the world.”

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