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French economist Jean Tirole won the Nobel Economics Prize on Monday for groundbreaking work on the power of large companies in a range of key industries.
By providing a framework for governments' handling of major enterprises, the 61-year-old professor at Toulouse 1 Capitole University has become "one of the most influential economists of our time," the jury said.
"Most of all he has clarified how to understand and regulate industries with a few powerful firms," it said of the second Frenchman to win a Nobel Prize in 2014, after Patrick Modiano was honoured for literature last week.
The global financial crisis -- triggered by a small number of giant players in the banking sector -- has put the complicated issue of improved regulation on the agenda for policy-makers across the world.
"Banking is a very hard thing to regulate, and we economists have to do more work on this," Tirole told the Nobel Committee after being informed that he had received the prize, worth eight million Swedish kronor (.1 million, 878,000 euros).
-- Freer markets, bigger firms --
The concentration of corporate power in a widening number of industries has been a central theme since the 1980s, when policies in advanced countries moved progressively to allowing markets a freer role.
The trend has been strengthened as a result of technological development and deepening globalisation, which have produced unprecedented wealth but also exacerbated inequality.
One of Tirole's chief contributions is the insight that market dominance works differently in different industries, according to the jury.
It noted that undercutting prices has traditionally been disciplined under competition, or anti-trust, law, because setting prices below production costs is one way of getting rid of competitors -- but this is not necessarily true of all markets.
In the newspaper market, for example, giving away papers free can be a way of attracting readers and thus new advertisers to cover the losses arising from production and distribution.
"In this case, it is doubtful whether undercutting should be banned," the jury said.
"The best regulation or competition policy should therefore be carefully adapted to every industry's specific conditions."
Tirole's research has also showed that some companies -- for example producers of widely used but patented software -- are able to dominate not just their own industry, but also neighbouring industries further down the production chain.
"If the innovation is sold to only one firm, this firm makes a high profit because it becomes more efficient than its competitors. The producer can then set his price considerably higher," the jury said.
-- Growing controversy --
The jury argued that Tirole's work has provided a framework for designing policies for a number of industries, ranging from telecommunications to banking.
"Drawing on these new insights, governments can better encourage powerful firms to become more productive and, at the same time, prevent them from harming competitors and customers," it said.
The prize will be awarded at a ceremony in Stockholm on December 10, the anniversary of the death in 1896 of the prizes' creator, Swedish scientist and philanthropist Alfred Nobel.
The economics prize is the only Nobel not originally included in Nobel's last will and testament.
It was established in 1968 by the Swedish central bank to celebrate its tricentenary, and first awarded in 1969. The other prizes have been awarded since 1901.
Appropriately for an economist who has dedicated much of his career to the study of monopolies, Tirole's award reduces an American near-monopoly over the Nobel economics prize in recent years.
Over the past decade, 18 out 20 economics prize laureates have been from the United States, including one Israeli-American.
Last year, US scholars Eugene Fama, Lars Peter Hansen and Robert Shiller won for their work on spotting trends in the asset markets.
The economics prize winds up this year's Nobel season, marked by the award Friday of the peace prize to 17-year-old Pakistani Malala Yousafzai and India's Kailash Satyarthi.
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