The Matchmaker

The Boston Globe’s Leon Neyfakh has a good piece on Alvin Roth:

Roth has always been interested in the idea that sophisticated theories can be used to solve practical problems. As a graduate student at Stanford University, he earned a doctorate in operations research, which uses math to help organizations run more smoothly. Roth was just 19 when he started at Stanford, having quit high school without graduating at the age of 16 and finished Columbia University in three years. At just 22, he got a job as an assistant professor at the University of Illinois, and in 1977, at just 25, he was granted tenure there….

In the years since, Roth has emerged as a rare figure in the academic world: a theorist willing to dive into real-world problems and fix them. After helping the med students, he designed a better way to assign children to public schools — the system now used by both Boston and New York. He also helped invent a system for matching kidney donors with patients, dramatically increasing the number of donations that take place each year. More recently, he and one of his students have been talking with Teach for America about improving the system it uses to deploy volunteers around the country.

… Inspired by Roth’s work, these rising economists are also setting their sights on real-world problems. Some are looking at dating websites; others are interested in how universities could do better at scheduling their students’ classes. Like Roth, all of them envision a world in which economists, as unlikely as it may seem, are recognized as society’s mechanics.

One minor note, kidney exchanges are great but I wouldn’t describe the increases as “dramatic.” We will need, in addition, other ideas to alleviate the shortage of transplant organs.


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