Sir James Mirrlees

Born(1936-07-05)5 July 1936
Minnigaff, Scotland
Died29 August 2018(2018-08-29) (aged 82)
Cambridge, England
EducationUniversity of Edinburgh (MA)
Trinity College, Cambridge (PhD)
Academic career
InstitutionChinese University of Hong Kong
Oxford University
University of Cambridge
FieldPolitical economics
Richard Stone
Partha Dasgupta
Nicholas Stern
Peter J. Hammond[1]
Franklin Allen
Barry Nalebuff
Geoffrey M. Heal
Huw Dixon
Anthony Venables
John Vickers
Alan Manning
Gareth Myles
Paul Seabright
Hyun-Song Shin
Zhang Weiying
ContributionsAsymmetric information
Moral Hazard
Optimal income taxation
Zero population growth
Spence–Mirrlees condition
AwardsNobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences (1996)
Information at IDEAS / RePEc

Sir James Alexander Mirrlees FRSE FBA (5 July 1936 – 29 August 2018) was a British economist and winner of the 1996 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. He was knighted in the 1997 Birthday Honours.

Early life and education

Born in Minnigaff, Kirkcudbrightshire, Mirrlees was educated at Douglas Ewart High School, then at the University of Edinburgh (MA in Mathematics and Natural Philosophy in 1957) and Trinity College, Cambridge (Mathematical Tripos and PhD in 1963 with thesis title Optimum Planning for a Dynamic Economy, supervised by Richard Stone). He was a very active student debater. A contemporary, Quentin Skinner, has suggested that Mirrlees was a member of the Cambridge Apostles along with fellow Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen during the period.[citation needed]


Between 1968 and 1976, Mirrlees was a visiting professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology three times. He was also a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley (1986) and Yale University (1989).[2] He taught at both Oxford University (as Edgeworth Professor of Economics 1968–1995) and University of Cambridge (1963–1968 and 1995–2018).[citation needed]

During his time at Oxford, he published papers on economic models for which he would eventually be awarded his Nobel Prize. The papers centred on asymmetric information, which determines the extent to which they should affect the optimal rate of saving in an economy. Among other results, he demonstrated the principles of "moral hazard" and "optimal income taxation" discussed in the books of William Vickrey. The methodology has since become the standard in the field.[citation needed]

Mirrlees and Vickrey shared the 1996 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences "for their fundamental contributions to the economic theory of incentives under asymmetric information".[3]

Mirrlees was also co-creator, with MIT Professor Peter A. Diamond, of the Diamond–Mirrlees efficiency theorem, which was developed in 1971.[4]

Mirrlees was emeritus Professor of Political Economy at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. He spent several months a year at the University of Melbourne, Australia. He was the Distinguished Professor-at-Large of the Chinese University of Hong Kong as well as University of Macau.[5]

In 2009, he was appointed Founding Master of the Morningside College of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.[6]

Mirrlees was a member of Scotland's Council of Economic Advisers. He also led the Mirrlees Review, a review of the UK tax system by the Institute for Fiscal Studies.[7]

His Ph.D. students included eminent academics and policy makers like professor Franklin Allen, Sir Partha Dasgupta,[3] professor Huw Dixon,[8] professor Hyun-Song Shin, Lord Nicholas Stern, professor Anthony Venables, Sir John Vickers, and professor Zhang Weiying.[9] He died in Cambridge, England, on 29 August 2018.[10][11][12]

Personal life

Mirrlees was an atheist.[13]


Further reading


  1. ^ Hammond, Peter J. "Curriculum Vitae" (PDF). Peter J. Hammond's Personal Home Page. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
  2. ^ "James A. Mirrlees – Curriculum Vitae". Retrieved 29 October 2013.
  3. ^ a b "James A. Mirrlees - Biographical". Retrieved 6 August 2016.
  4. ^ Peter A. Diamond and James A. Mirrlees (1971). "Optimal Taxation and Public Production I: Production Efficiency," American Economic Review, 61(1), pp. 8–27 Archived 18 June 2015 at the Wayback Machine (press +).
       _____ (1971). "Optimal Taxation and Public Production II: Tax Rules," American Economic Review, 61(3), Part 1, pp. 261–278 Archived 14 August 2013 at the Wayback Machine (press +).
  5. ^ UMAC Department of Economics: Staff Archived 16 March 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ "Professor Sir James Mirrlees (5 July 1936 - 29 August 2018) - News - News & Events - Morningside College". Retrieved 4 June 2023.
  7. ^ Johnson, Paul; Myles, Gareth (2011). "The Mirrlees Review". Fiscal Studies. 32 (3): 319–329. doi:10.1111/j.1475-5890.2011.00139.x. ISSN 0143-5671.
  8. ^ "Professor Huw Dixon". Retrieved 6 August 2016.
  9. ^ Leonard, Mark (1 January 2008). What Does China Think?. PublicAffairs. p. 141. ISBN 978-0786732036.
  10. ^ "Nobel Prize-Winning Economist James Mirrlees Dies at 82". The New York Times.
  11. ^ "Chinese University Nobel laureate James Mirrlees dies aged 82". 31 August 2018.
  12. ^ Goyal, Sanjeev (30 August 2018). "Professor Sir James Mirrlees 1936-2018". University of Cambridge. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
  13. ^ Klein, Daniel B.; Daza, Ryan; Mead, Hannah (September 2013). "James A. Mirrlees [Ideological Profiles of the Economics Laureates]" (PDF). Econ Journal Watch. 10 (3): 466–472. Retrieved 30 August 2018. At 35 no longer Christian, atheist rather.