Interview with Jean Tirole

“You know, it’s also being with the right people, in the right place, at the right moment”

Telephone interview with Jean Tirole following the announcement of the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel for 2014, 13 October 2014. The interviewer is Adam Smith, Chief Scientific Officer of Nobel Media.

[Jean Tirole] Hello.

[Adam Smith] Yes, hello. My name is Adam Smith calling from the website of the Nobel Prize,

[JT] OK.

[AS] Congratulations first of all on the award.

[JT] Oh thank you.

[AS] How did you receive the news?

[JT] Well, I was called by the Swedish Academy, and I was very surprised. I was incredibly surprised at the honour and it took me half an hour to recoup from the call. I still haven’t recouped yet, but I immediately thought to all those who helped me, you know, with my career, and my family of course, and also my colleagues and students who have played a big role in my career. And in particular the person who started here in Toulouse, the Centre in Toulouse, Jean-Jacques Laffont who passed away and probably would have been, would have deserved to be with me today in this Prize for regulation and competition policy.

[AS] Yes, you worked together very closely but he died ten years ago, is that right?

[JT] He died ten years ago from cancer and he was my mentor and also a dear friend, yes.

[AS] Nice to remember him today then. You’re the first French economist to be awarded the Prize since Maurice Allais, over a quarter of a century ago. You must be very proud.

[JT] Well, I’m very proud, this is true, I mean. But, you know, it’s also being with the right people, in the right place, at the right moment. And, you know, it’s a team work too. It’s true Maurice Allais got the prize I think in 1978 or ’77 and he was a great mind, and it is very, yeah it’s very impressive for me.

[AS] And I suppose the timing could be interesting because, I mean, more and more governments are opening up their public monopolies to private stakeholders these days so your work is more and more relevant year by year I suppose.

[JT] Well, that has been a trend and we have been working with Jean-Jacques Laffont and my other co-authors to try to understand what regulation should look like in such industries. So, you know, opening access to entrants in a way that is going to keep the infrastructure built. That’s actually a difficult task. But it’s true that we need competition. That competition doesn’t come about easily in such industries by definition, so that’s why you need an economic framework to analyse this.

[AS] Who was the first person you told after you heard the news?

[JT] Well, I told my wife, and I told my mother too, and …

[AS] What did she say?

[JT] Oh, I first, to be honest, she is 90 years old and I first ask her to sit before I told her of the news. [Laughs] So, but yes, she was, my mother used to be a teacher, French and Latin and Greek teacher. You know, knowledge is very important to her, very important. And of course, for my wife and my children also. I see one of my daughters is on Skype with me from London and in fact it is actually quite moving for the whole family of course.

[AS] Yes, indeed, probably the whole world are trying to get hold of you now so I should leave you to their attentions. But for now our congratulations and we look forward to welcoming you to Stockholm.

[JT] OK, thank you, bye bye.

[AS] Bye bye.

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