Congratulatory calls and visits, along with news reporters, greet Berkeley’s newest Nobelist

By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs


George Akerlof and his wife, Janet Yellen, celebrate after hearing the news of his Nobel Prize in Economics.

10 October 2001 | Awakened by a phone call at 6:17 a.m., Berkeley’s newest Nobel laureate, George Akerlof, says he didn’t know how to react when greeted by the voice from Sweden on the other end of the line.

That early morning phone call was one any economist would take at any hour of the day. On the line was the Nobel Prize Committee from Sweden, informing the UC Berkeley professor of economics that he had won of the coveted prize, known officially as the 2001 Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel.

"It was such a surprise," Akerlof said from his Berkeley home Wednesday morning. "I didn’t expect the phone to ring. When it did ring, I thought it was someone calling for comments about a colleague who had won."

Berkeley’s 18th Nobelist and second consecutive winner in economics was recognized for "analysis of markets with asymmetric information." He shares the prize with Stanford University’s Michael Spence and Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia Univeristy.

"I thought I may have still been asleep," Akerlof said. "I thought it was a dream."

Akerlof’s wife, Janet Yellen, also a Berkeley professor in economics and business administration, said "we’re just utterly thrilled and shocked." Yellen served as chair of the U.S. Council of Economic Advisers in the Clinton administration.

Yellen says the first call they made after hanging up the phone was to their son Robert, a junior at Yale University studying math and economics. "He was shrieking and overwhelmed and overjoyed," Yellen said.

The phone continued to ring at Akerlof’s North berkeley home all morning with calls from friends, colleagues and a throng of reporters. People came by, including Berkeley economics colleagues Daniel McFadden, the 2000 Nobel Prize winner, and David and Christina Romer. Akerlof scurried about the house as the pet cat weaved between people’s feet, purring for attention. Akerlof blurted out, "I can’t find my glasses." Yellen helped him prep for an interview, suggesting he change into a coat and tie. Akerlof found his glasses just in time for the interview.

McFadden, the voice of experience, offered a rundown of what Akerlof could expect as a new Nobelist, telling him "the next few days are going to be very intense." Receptions, more interviews, lots of phone calls, McFadden said. And the December ceremony in Sweden. Akerlof will have to give five different lectures for the Nobel committee, one to be broadcast around the world. It seemed overwhelming.

"Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it," McFadden told him as cell phones buzzed in the background.

"I can’t believe I’m one of them," Akerlof said of his newfound circle of laureate colleagues.

Akerlof will split the prize money, $943,000, with his co-winners. He said he plans to donate his portion of the award to the institutions that have helped him during his career, including UC Berkeley.


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