Americans Paul R Milgrom and Robert B Wilson have won the Nobel Prize in economics for improvements to auction theory and inventions of new auction formats. The winners were announced on Monday in Stockholm by Goran Hansson, secretary-general of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. “This year’s Laureates in Economic Sciences started out with fundamental theory and later used their results in practical applications, which have spread globally. Their discoveries are of great benefit to society,” says Peter Fredriksson, chair of the Prize Committee.
Paul Milgrom and Robert Wilson, have studied how auctions work and they 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 benefitted sellers, buyers and taxpayers around the world.
Robert Wilson developed the theory for auctions of objects with a common value – a value which is uncertain beforehand but, in the end, is the same for everyone. Examples include the future value of radio frequencies or the volume of minerals in a particular area. Wilson showed why rational bidders tend to place bids below their own best estimate of the common value: they are worried about the winner’s curse – that is, about paying too much and losing out. Paul Milgrom formulated a more general theory of auctions that not only allows common values, but also private values that vary from bidder to bidder. He analysed the bidding strategies in a number of well-known auction formats, demonstrating that a format will give the seller higher expected revenue when bidders learn more about each other’s estimated values during bidding.
The award comes as much of the world experiences the worst recession since World War II because of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The award caps a week of Nobel Prizes and is technically known as the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel. Since its establishment in 1969, it has been awarded 51 times and is now widely considered one of the Nobel prizes.