Cal professor shares Nobel economics prize

October 12, 2009 6:37:20 PM PDT
UC Berkeley is basking in the glow of one of its own winning the Nobel Prize in economics. Professor emeritus Oliver Williamson shares the award with the first woman the Nobel Committee has ever honored for economics, Elinor Ostrom.

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The celebrating started at home for Professor Oliver Williamson and it started early, with a 3:30 a.m. phone callthat his son answered.

"He came over to our bedroom and alerted me by telling me that quote 'I think this may be the call,'" said Williamson, Ph.D.

There's been a lot of laughing ever since -- not to mention hand shaking and standing ovations.

But the 77-year-old professor spent much of the day trying to explain to laymen what exactly his research on "transaction cost economics" really means.

"Orgnization matters and, I guess, can be made susceptible to analysis," said Williamson, Ph.D.

Translation: it's about how businesses are organized and how they resolve conflicts. The prize committee said his research on the economic activity inside firms has real world impact.

Williamson's UC Berkeley students and colleagues couldn't be more proud.

"Oliver Williamson's work is not only profound, but it spans so much intellectual space," said Haas School of Business Dean Richard Lyons, Ph.D.

"It's a good day for economics in general," said Berkeley student John Mondragon.

A Haas School of Business professor hasn't won a Nobel Prize in 15 years.

There are a number of perks that come with winning the Nobel Prize such as the notoriety and the $1.4 million prize that Professor Williamson will share. But there's one perk in particular that he is excited about: that's the new campus parking space he'll get.

"The chancellor is under the gun to make a good delivery," said Williamson, Ph.D.

He plans to make a good delivery himself by donating some of his prize money to higher education.

Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom says back in the 60's, she was asked by her advisors why, as a woman, she would want to pursue studying economics. Today Ostrom is proud that she did.

"I think we're entering, we've already entered a new era. We recognize that women have capabilities of doing great scientific work, and yes I appreciate that it is an honor to be the first woman, but I won't be the last," she said.

Ostrom says the early morning call from Stockholm was a great thrill and a very big surprise. Ostrom was born and raised in Los Angeles.

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