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A Nobel Celebration Like No Other

Dale Mortensen receives a royal welcome during week of Nobel Prize festivities in Stockholm

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January 5, 2011 | by Pat Vaughan Tremmel

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Much hoopla followed the Oct. 11 announcement of Dale Mortensen’s 2010 Nobel Prize in economics. But the majesty of the honor truly was brought home for Mortensen, the Ida C. Cook Professor of Economics in Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, during the week of Nobel celebrations in Stockholm in early December.   

All of Stockholm, in its fairytale-like, Christmas-time splendor, it seemed, was focused on Mortensen and other laureates who were swept up in a whirlwind of activities that began early each day and often continued into the wee hours of the next morning.

Everything centered around the Dec. 10 Nobel Prize ceremony in which Mortensen received a Nobel Prize certificate from King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, resplendent in ceremonial garb. Queen Silvia, seated with a host of other dignitaries on the stage, looked on, wearing a kelly green gown and the Leuchtenberg Sapphire Parure Tiara, a legacy from Napoleon.

Throughout the week, Mortensen celebrated heartily with family and friends -- 29 in all joined him in Stockholm. But he, of course, had much business to attend to, dealing with paparazzi, talking at press conferences, appearing on television in a roundtable discussion with other laureates, posing for photos, delivering a lecture, rehearsing royal bows and otherwise preparing for the main ceremony in Concert Hall.

After the ceremony, Mortensen delivered a short but heartfelt talk at the concluding banquet in the Blue Hall at the Stockholm City Hall, a building constructed between 1911 and 1923 and inspired by palaces of the Renaissance.

In thanking the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and the Nobel Foundation for the honor, on behalf of himself and his co-winners, Peter Diamond and Christopher Pissarides, Mortensen referred to Studs Terkel with a message that spoke to the heart of unemployment.

A Pulitzer Prize-winning author known for his oral histories of common Americans, Terkel was the author of the 1974 book “Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do.”

“Work was a search, sometimes successful, sometimes not, for daily meaning as well as daily bread,” Mortensen said, quoting Terkel from “Working.“  “Even for those who are less fortunate in their allocation of work, being unemployed is a miserable state,” Mortensen went on to say. “These facts add to the reasons for supporting the income of the unemployed during this recession and restoring prosperity as soon as possible.”

Mortensen’s words left many, including his wife, Beverly, in tears.

The friction between a job search and a job match is a major policy issue addressed by the model for which Mortensen, Diamond and Pissarides won the Nobel Prize in economics. Professor Bertil Holmlund, a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and chairman of the Economic Prize Committee, talked about the DMP Model (Diamond, Mortensen, Pissarides) during his introduction of the three economists during the main ceremony.

A key element of the model is the development of a new framework to analyze labor markets, said Holmlund. “This model allows us to consider simultaneously how firms create jobs, how workers and firms decide whether to match or keep on searching and how wages are determined.”

The DMP Model, Holmlund said, has turned out to be eminently useful for addressing a host of policy issues and “has become the dominant workhorse for macroeconomic analysis of the labor market.” The work of the three economists, he said, has inspired a large amount of empirical research.

The Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra performed at the main ceremony, and an explosion of fresh flowers was integral to its beauty and elegance. Concert Hall was decorated with about 23,000 flowers colored cerise (cherry) and lilac, including carnations, roses, phalaenopsis orchids, holly amaryllis, nerines, tulips and calla lilies.

In homage to Alfred Nobel, who spent his final years in Sanremo, Italy, where he died in 1896, every year Provincia di Imperia, Riviera dei Fiori, Sanremo, sends flowers to decorate both Concert Hall and City Hall in Stockholm.

After the ceremony, the laureates and their families, the king and queen and their entourages and other dignitaries made their entrances at the banquet, walking down the grand stairway heralded by trumpets. Providing a surprisingly intimate environment, according to one observer, the castle-type structure seated 1,300 people, with the laureates, the royalty, prime ministers and others sitting at a table spanning the length of City Hall. The floral arrangements on the more than 60 tables, with the use of about 2,000 test tubes that served as vases, gave the illusion of flowers growing upward out of the tables. Turbot aux truffes was served at dinner, and everyone got three Nobel chocolate coins as souvenirs.

The banquet ended by 11 p.m. when the king and queen departed, and the diners proceeded up the grand stairway to the party in the Golden Hall of City Hall, named after the 18 million pieces of gold mosaic and glass covering its walls. Dale Mortensen, Beverly and other members of their clan, joined Nobel Laureate in Literature Mario Vargas Llosa and others on the dance floor, dancing to the rhythms of OnCue orchestra.

Earlier that week, Mortensen and his wife Beverly, musicians themselves, were moved by the Nobel Prize Concert. World-renowned American violinist Joshua Bell, performed with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Sakri Oramo. And the couple’s love of music was captured during a clip that aired on the television program “Nobel Minds,” a roundtable discussion with the laureates, moderated by a BBC reporter. The clip of Mortensen at home singing “Old Man River,” accompanied by Beverly on piano, was from a Swedish television program shot in Evanston that also aired that week.

During a visit to the Nobel Museum on Wednesday of that week, Mortensen, was welcomed with a video stream about him and his work, and, as tradition dictates, he and other 2010 laureates each signed a chair in the museum’s cafeteria.

It is hard to imagine how the fun-loving Mortensens found time to sleep during the jam-packed trip. One evening, they visited relatives in a suburb of Stockholm, where they dined on a traditional Swedish smorgasbord of more than 30 dishes, and the Frog Ball at the University of Stockholm was a highlight of the trip. After Mortensen and other new laureates were inducted into the Order of the Frog, they each got a frog, and, as duty required, jumped around the stage, chanting “ribbit.”

By the time the festivities ended, the Mortensens had become fast friends with the other laureates and their families who all stayed at the Grand Hotel Stockholm. They started their mornings together, dining from Swedish smorgasbords and drinking a special tea created for Nobel Week, and they ended their evenings sharing drinks and camaraderie in a living-room type lounge in the hotel. Talk about a winter wonderland!