Tirole, the Humble Nobelist of Economics

A professor who is not a loner at all, yet he is a fringe scientist. A pragmatical minded manager of the academy, he founded the Toulouse School of Economics, however, everyone still calls him simply Jean.

by Tommaso Reggiani

published in: Città Nuova on 15/10/2014

Jean TiroleI had an appointment with him right on the day I arrived in Toulouse to get introduced to each other. The corridor was only half-light and I was searching for his office by reading all the name tags outside the doors. There comes a gentleman from behind, looking particular but not too reserved. He can see that I am lost completely, so he offers his hand and says,  ‘You are Tommaso, aren't you? Welcome. My name is Jean Tirole,
perhaps you were looking for me
.’ He says all this with a disarming humility.

To which I, the miniscule new scholar at my first workplace, completely aghast, reply to him, ‘Ah, I've heard about you already.’ He laughs and shoots back, ‘probably you heard some things about Tirole, but have you ever had coffee with Jean?

Yes, because those who study economics start to develop regular contact with Tirole on the first day of the second year of university. From that moment on, in one way or another, he will be always around (always!). Therefore, the Nobel Prize to Tirole is not a surprise. More or less everybody has been thinking of him as a Nobelist in pectore for some time already.

Tirole has been involved in and is still completely involved in the most various topics in the field of economics. What earned him the well-deserved Nobel Prize was especially his scholarship of the regulation and prevention of abuses of power inside markets by the multinational companies that are slowing down the entering of the younger companies.  However, there is a great amount of reading that you can do in the many scientific reviews and in his academic profile if you want to know more about these strictly scientific aspects, about Tirole that is. But let us dedicate a few words to Jean here, instead.

Apart from being a fringe scientist, he is also a pragmatic manager of the academia, capable of making an innovative international university develop in the French province that is of the hybrid type of public-private institution by looking for funds, making the high academia enter into dialogue with the grand industry and attracting motivated researchers from all over the world.  He is the type who is able to manage colleagues who may compete with the divas of Hollywood (but they have not won the Nobel Prize), and he is also able to see the potential in a great project and follow it through with determination.

In the end, however, after a Nobel Prize, many research projects that have been cited globally and his very own school of economics (the Toulouse School of Economics), what really remains is the Jean you had coffee with. A real professor, one that has understood perfectly that ‘in order to teach it is enough to know but in order to educate you have to be’ as Alberto Hurtado says. To be. Yes, to be an example of passion for your work, personally. To students and colleagues alike.

 Tommaso Reggiani is a scholar of economics and ethics at the University of Cologne.

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