Note from Raj Echambadi: Many thanks to Larry DeBrock for writing this blog post about Alvin Roth. Larry and Al Roth were colleagues for a while at the University of Illinois. One of Larry’s early academic publications was with Al Roth entitled ”Strike-two: Labor-management negotiations in major league baseball” in the Bell Journal of Economics in 1981. It is an interesting paper that investigates the hyphenated strike in major league baseball in 1980.
A May 23rd Wall Street Journal article by Leslie Kwoh (“You Call That Innovation?”) raised important
The 2012 Nobel Prize in Economics is being shared by two American professors, Al Roth and Lloyd Shaply. We are particularly proud of one of these two gifted economists. Al Roth started his faculty career at the College of Business at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. An undergrad from Columbia University, Al earned his Ph.D. from Stanford in 1974 and joined Illinois that same year, holding joint appointments in the Department of Business Administration as well as the Department of Economics (which at that time was part of the Business school). In 1977 he was promoted to Associate Professor and in 1979 to Full Professor. That remarkably rapid progression from brand new Assistant Professor to the top ranks of the professoriate was an early predictor of his tremendous abilities. In 1982, Al moved to the University of Pittsburgh.
Al has made a career out of trying to understand market design issues and allocation rules. Economists are always interested in allocation rules, but in particular Al focuses on such rules in markets that do not permit prices to be used as the rationing device. The New York Times article on the day of the announcement (October 15, 2012) quoted M.I.T. economist Parag Pathak:
“Al has spent the last 30 years trying to make economics more like an engineering discipline,”
I think that is a perfect description. Al has constantly tried to build things, just as if he were an engineer. He took complicated economic models of efficient resource allocation methods and built real world algorithms to implement these theories. As you have no doubt read, his contributions in these real-world implementations of high level economic theories have been nothing short of amazing: allocating medical school graduates to the right residency hospital, allocating seats in the New York City High School system across parents and students with widely different desires, and matching kidney donors with patients. (And, for a less socially significant application, click here for a story about how Harvard economists who worked with Al wrote a paper about implementing these rules as a more efficient way to run the annual NFL player draft.)
Al is a most deserving winner of the prize. One would be hard pressed to find an economist who has made such remarkable real world contributions. The College was indeed fortunate to have him spend 8 years with us, both in our classrooms and as a researcher.
Josef and Margot Lakonishok Endowed Dean, College of Business and
Professor of Business Administration and
Professor of Economics