Sir James Mirrlees: A tribute to a former RES President


Former President of the Royal Economic Society (1989-1992) Professor Sir James Mirrlees passed away on 29 August 2018 at the age of 82.

Jim Mirrlees was one of the leading economic theorists of the 20th century. In 1996 he was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics with William Vickrey for their fundamental contributions to the economic theory of incentives under asymmetric information.

He developed the first formal model of optimal income taxation, making explicit the trade-off between equity and efficiency. Working with Peter Diamond, they produced a general approach to production efficiency and optimal commodity taxation that has wide applications to topics such as cost-benefit analysis and the optimality of free trade.

Jim Mirrlees was Emeritus Professor of Political Economy at the University of Cambridge and Master of Morningside College at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. In addition to serving as RES President he was also President of the Econometric Society in 1982 and President of the European Economic Association in 2000 – a testimony of the esteem in which his work was held worldwide.

He was known for combining a formidable intellect with a gentle and kind personality. With deep moral values, Jim Mirrlees held a strong commitment to making the world a better place, particularly in the context of economic development and overcoming poverty. Although he had a style which sometimes appeared severe and he firmly dismissed sloppy arguments, his kindness towards his students was legendary – and they were devoted to him.