Don’t Forget the Big Problems! – Paul R. Milgrom’s Personal Lindau Impressions
Paul R. Milgrom, recipient of the 2020 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, together with Robert B. Wilson, attended his first Lindau Meeting in 2022. Here, he tells us about his advice to Young Economists, what he learned himself, and what makes Lindau so special.
I participated in the whole range of formats that were on offer during the week in Lindau, including my own lecture, a panel discussion, the Next Gen Economics Sessions, a Laureate Lunch and a Science Walk with Young Economists. Two things really stood out for me. First, I really enjoyed giving my talk about water markets, which was the first time I had lectured about that. So I was surprised at how enthusiastically it was received, and I have even already gotten positive feedback from people who have watched a recording of the talk in the Lindau Mediatheque.
Frequently Asked Questions
The other activities I enjoyed most were the individual meetings with students, including the Science Walk and the Laureate Lunch. During these interactions, the students mostly asked about two things. One was my history as an economist, that is, how did I end up doing what I was doing, what was my path as a young economist? Second were questions in the form of career advice.
I told them that when you’re doing economics research, especially theory, there can be a lot of surprises and a lot of the ideas and methods one tries will fail.
With that in mind, I told the Young Economists what I tell my own students, which is that, on the one hand, I want them to focus some of their efforts on tractable problems, which will also enable them to have some tangible successes and will also allow them to hone their skills. However, on the other hand, they should not forget to look deeply at the important issues that matter most, even if the path forward is unclear. They should study problems, that, if solved, will have a big impact, for example, by fundamentally changing the way we think about something or by affecting a significant policy decision.
The Young Economists were also eager to discuss their work with me and to take the opportunity to get my advice and thoughts on what they were doing. What I learned from my week in Lindau are the concerns of the young researchers and also something about the places where they are doing their work. It was eye-opening to realise that although, as economists, we may hail from very different countries and societies, so many of us are working on very similar issues.
Meeting the Other Laureates
As Nobel Prize ceremonies had not been taking place due to COVID, this was the first time that I was in the company of other Nobel Laureates in this way. It was fascinating to see what the other Laureates were up to. For example, Robert Merton’s talk on financial engineering pointed me to an unexpected connection between market design, which is what I do, and financial instrument design, which was the subject of his talk. It was also particularly interesting listening to Oliver Hart describe his work about voice and exit in influencing corporate behavior.
I had heard of the Lindau Meetings from my friends Eric Maskin and Roger Myerson. They talked about how good a time they had. Like the other Laureates I receive many invitations, so when considering which to accept, I try to visit places that have something else special apart from the conference or meeting itself. For Lindau that meant spending time on the island – European towns are so different to American ones – which I had the chance to do when having lunch with one of the Young Economists.
Lasting in Lindau
During the Science Walk, I was so engrossed in conversation that I didn’t have the chance to take anything in at all! And, of course, Lake Constance is such a special place. Another thing that I really appreciated is that my wife could accompany me on this trip.
I was also grateful for the opportunity I had to interact with Countess Bettina Bernadotte who was very charming. The unveiling of my bar on the Lindau Nobel Laureate Pier was a lovely surprise. It’s special to have something there that is tangible and lasting – an enduring testament to the Nobel Laureates.
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This text was originally written for our Annual Report 2022. We hope you enjoy browsing through the online version.