A funny thing happened in the Oval Office yesterday when President Obama and a handful of Administration officials congratulated two of this year’s new American Nobel prize winners: There were more Nobel laureates among the greeting Administration officials than there were new ones being feted.
The White House welcome—for the 2010 Nobelists who hailed from the United States—featured Peter Diamond and Dale Mortensen, the winners of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Economics (the two other invitees, who won in Chemistry, could not attend because they were out of the country). But in a stark reflection of the oft-noted fact that this Administration is particularly well endowed with Nobel laureates, the two newbies were outnumbered by veteran laureates now working in the Executive Branch. There was Energy Secretary Steven Chu (Physics, 1997), OSTP Associate Director for Science Carl Wieman (Physics, 2001), the President himself (Peace, 2009), and OSTP Director John P. Holdren, who accepted the 1995 Peace Prize on behalf of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs.
The award-winning work by Dr. Diamond and Dr. Mortensen bears particular relevance in today’s difficult economic times. Along with a third co-recipient, Christopher Pissarides, they were cited for their analysis of markets, especially labor markets, with “search frictions.” Markets with search frictions are those in which buyers and sellers have difficulty finding each other, making the process of finding an ideal match long and costly. The theoretical framework developed by the trio helps explain the underlying causes of phenomena like persistent unemployment, and has practical value as a means of investigating ways that government policies can improve the matching of workers to jobs.
President Obama nominated Diamond to the Federal Reserve Board last April, long before his selection to receive the Prize. Diamond is awaiting confirmation in the Senate.
The Oval Office meeting—which was also attended by Swedish Ambassador Jonas Hafström and Norwegian Ambassador Wegger Chr. Strommen—was followed by a reception at the Blair House, attended by senior Administration officials, representatives of the Swedish and Norwegian Embassies, and distinguished members of the science and technology community. In brief welcoming remarks, Dr. Holdren recognized the laureates for providing a better understanding of our society and economy:
“All of us here who are struggling in our respective ways to help get the American economy back into high gear—through policies that facilitate the matching of resources to individual, National, and global needs—salute you for your years of hard work, which have led to the extraordinary recognition we are celebrating today,” Dr, Holdren said.
Dr. Holdren also noted the vital role that Federal funding played in supporting the laureates’ research over a period of many years, and underscored the importance of these investments to maintaining American competitiveness. “The advances made by this year’s laureates are the fruits of wise investments made by the American people,” he said. “Over the years, the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health provided millions of dollars in research support to these laureates—a poignant reminder in these times of fiscal constraints that America’s economic stature and strength have long been undergirded by Federal investments in science and technology.”