Stanford’s Robert B. Wilson wins major economics award

Head shot of Robert Wilson
Robert Wilson

Stanford economist ROBERT B. WILSON recently won recognition for his groundbreaking scholarship on auctions, electricity pricing, and how groups interact in a market when information is not the same for everyone.

Wilson was chosen for the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Awards in economics, finance and management, which comes with a 400,000-Euro prize (about $441,080). In the eight years since the prizes have been awarded, four of the economists who have won BBVA awards have gone on to win the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences.
Wilson’s is among eight honors given annually for “outstanding contributions and radical advances in a broad range of scientific, technological, and artistic areas.” He was cited for his “pioneering contributions” to pricing in competitive markets, according to BBVA, which announced the award last month.

Wilson is the Adams Distinguished Professor of Management, Emeritus, at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. He studies game theory as it involves business and economics, and his research and teaching focus on market design, pricing, negotiation, and related topics concerning industrial organization and information economics.

In his career, Wilson has broken new ground on how to set up auction designs and competitive bidding strategies in the oil, communication, and power industries, and to the design of innovative pricing schemes. The electric power industry has adopted many of his findings, and overall his game theory approach on how information is handled in such environments has improved the design of such markets.

In an interview, Wilson said he conducted most of his research with Stanford colleagues DAVID KREPS, professor in the Graduate School of Business, and PAUL MILGROM, professor of economics. “I’m glad our contribution has been useful, and encouraged other applications of game theory in economic analysis of strategic behavior.”

The author of more than 100 international journal articles, the award announcement noted, “[Wilson] has consistently combined the construction of a robust theoretical framework with the search for practical solutions.”

Wilson’s 1968 paper, “The Theory of the Syndicates” influenced a whole generation of students in economics, finance and accounting. He earned his doctorate in economics from Harvard University and has been a professor at Stanford since 1968. From 1993-1995, he served as the director of the Stanford Institute of Theoretical Economics.