Today the Nobel committee awarded their prize in economics to my old friend and colleague, Al Roth. It’s a wonderful day. Al is not only a brilliant scholar and a truly worthy winner of this incredible award, he’s also a wonderful person – a loving husband, a dedicated Dad, an amazing adviser, and a great friend to many, many people.
Al and I first met in the fall of 1974, when we were both new assistant professors at the business school at the University of Illinois. We were both freshly minted PhDs – Al from Stanford, me from Purdue. I was a young professor at the age of 25 – Al was only 22.
Al never graduated from high school; he quit, I think, because of the boredom. Soon after a family friend told him that Columbia had a program that admitted people to the University without a high school degree. Al passed all of their requirements – no problem there – and enrolled at the age of 16. He graduated at 19, enrolled in the PhD program at Stanford at 19, and finished his dissertation in three years. Yes, he is a very smart guy.
As young as he was, he grew a beard to make himself look older when he went on the job market. He also was a bit informal. In fact, word spread that someone went to all of his interviews that year wearing a sweater rather than a suit. That was Al.
After arriving at Illinois, two of our senior colleagues threw us together, thinking that we might have a lot to talk about since both of our dissertations investigated coalition formation – Al from the theoretical side, me from the empirical. This connection was the start of a long-running collaboration that resulted in 12 joint publications. We worked on bargaining and prisoners’ dilemma games as well as coalition formation. Al got tenure at the age of 25, was promoted to Full Professor at 27, and moved to the University of Pittsburgh in 1982 for a Chaired Professorship that was a direct line item on the University budget. At Pitt Al helped to build a dynamic, productive economics department. He was then lured to Harvard and has recently moved back to Stanford.
Al met his wife Emilie at Illinois. She was a PhD student in the Psychology Department. While I might have pushed Al toward experiments, Emilie gave him incredible insights from the world of psychology. She has also been an incredible partner for over 30 years. They also have two wonderful sons, Aaron and Ben.
Al is a restless, adventurous soul. Three random (and maybe tepid) examples: (1) He often knocked on my door at Illinois when he needed a break from work, tempted by the thought of ice cream rather than working right through the day. (2) After he turned 25 he also worried that, as a mathematician, he might not have any more great ideas; it’s great to see how wrong he was. And (3), his younger son Ben’s prowess in ping pong led Al to be an avid and accomplished player himself at a pretty advanced age.
I always claimed that I taught Al how to do an experiment. Truth be told, I didn’t have to tell him much. After we had worked together for a while, I often told him that someday he would do an experiment on his own; he always replied by saying that someday I would prove a theorem on my own. We both actually did that.
This is a wonderful day for Al, his family, and all of his friends, as well as for game theory and experimental economics. Kudos to Al, and to the Nobel folks for recognizing him!