Two U.S. scholars share Nobel economics prize

By KARL RITTER and PAUL WISEMAN Published: October 16, 2012
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— Two American scholars won the Nobel economics prize Monday for work on match-making — how to pair doctors with hospitals, students with schools, kidneys with transplant recipients and even men with women in marriage.

Lloyd Shapley of UCLA and Alvin Roth, a Harvard University professor currently visiting at Stanford University, found ways to make markets work when traditional economic tools fail.

Shapley, 89, came up with the formulas to match supply and demand in markets where prices don't do the job; the 60-year-old Roth put Shapley's math to work in the real world.

Unlike some recent Nobel prizes — such as the Peace Prize that went to the embattled European Union last week — this year's economics award did not seem to send a political message.

“It's all about down-to-earth, highly useful stuff,” said Robert Aumann, a professor at Jerusalem's Hebrew University who won the 2005 economics Nobel. “We're talking about the nitty-gritty of health care and education — which medical students are assigned to which hospitals. We're talking about how to arrange donors of kidneys.”

Shapley made early theoretical inroads into the subject, using game theory to analyze different matching methods in the 1950s and '60s.

In a groundbreaking 1962 paper, Shapley and the late David Gale looked at how to match 10 men and 10 women in perfectly stable marriages. They created a model in which no two people liked anyone else better than each other.

While that may have had little impact on marriages and divorces, the elegant algorithm they developed has been used to better understand many different markets.