The 2014 Noble Prize in Economic Sciences is awarded to French economist Jean Tirole of Université Toulouse 1 Capitole “for his analysis of market power and regulation”.
Here is the Nobel committee’s brief on his work and here is the detailed explanation. His main theoretical contributions is related to the understanding and regulation of industries with a few powerful firms (oligopoly), which influence prices, volume and quality. His research has helped governments to design regulations "so that large and mighty firms will act in society's best interest" and that there is a need to ensure that different industries may require different regulations. Other important issues that has Triole’s contributions in microeconomics are market failures, oligopoly, asymmetric information, game theory, competition regulation and industrial organization, procurement theory and optimal contracts. More on the depth and breadth of his work is outlined here and here.
Excerpts from the Nobel committee's brief:
Price caps can provide dominant firms with strong motives to reduce costs – a good thing for society – but may also permit excessive profits – a bad thing for society. Cooperation on price setting within a market is usually harmful, but cooperation regarding patent pools can benefit everyone involved. The merger of a firm and its supplier may lead to more rapid innovation, but it may also distort competition.
To arrive at these results, a new theory was needed for oligopoly markets, because not even extensive privatization creates enough space for more than a small number of firms. There was also a need for a new theory of regulation in situations of assymetric information, because regulators often have poor knowledge of firms’ conditions.
Tirole’s research would come to build upon new scientific methods, particularly in game theory and contract theory. There were great hopes that these methods would contribute to practical policy. Game theory would aid the systematic study of how firms react to different conditions and to each other’s behavior. The next step would be to propose appropriate regulation based on the new theory of incentive contracts between parties with different information. However, even though many people could see the research questions, they were difficult to solve.
Jean Tirole’s research contributions are characterised by thorough studies, respect for the peculiarities of different markets, and the skilful use of new analytical methods in economics. He has penetrated deep into the most central issues of oligopolies and assymetric information, but he has also managed to bring together his own and other’s results into a coherent framework for teaching, practical application, and continued research. Tirole’s emphasis on normative theories of regulation and competition policy has given his contributions great practical significance.