Two US-based academics won the Nobel Economics Prize on Monday for groundbreaking research on contract theory that has helped design insurance policies, executive pay and even prison management.
Oliver Hart, a British-American economist, and Bengt Holmstrom of Finland "have developed contract theory, a comprehensive framework for analysing many diverse issues in contractual design, like performance-based pay for top executives, deductibles and co-pays in insurance, and the privatisation of public-sector activities," the Nobel jury said.
Their pioneering work has laid "an intellectual foundation" for designing policies and institutions in many areas, "from bankruptcy legislation to political constitutions," it added.
US economist Paul Krugman, the 2008 Nobel economics laureate, hailed their win, tweeting: "Hart and Holmstrom so obviously deserving that my first thought was 'didn't they have it already?'"
Working both separately and together, Hart and Holmstrom created tools to help determine whether teachers, healthcare workers, and prison guards should receive fixed salaries or performance-based pay, and whether providers of public services, such as schools, hospitals, or prisons, should be publicly or privately owned.
Per Stromberg, a member of the Nobel committee, said the duo's work made it possible to balance executives' incentive pay, for example.
It "makes them maybe be more motivated, but how do you avoid bonuses and incentive pay leading to wrong decisions being made in companies?"
Contract theory "is super useful to understand that problem, not just to explain what happens but actually to help shareholders and corporate boards design better contracts as well."
In the example of car insurance, the deductible is the incentive to get carowners to lock their car, which they may otherwise not be inclined to do if they were to be fully compensated for damages.
Hart, born in 1948, is an economics professor at Harvard University in the United States, while Holmstrom, 67, is a professor of economics and management at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The pair will share the eight million kronor (USD 924,000) prize.
"My first action was to hug my wife, wake up my younger son ... and I actually spoke to my fellow laureate," Hart told the Nobel Foundation website.
Holmstrom meanwhile told reporters via video link at the Nobel press conference in Stockholm that he was "very surprised, and very happy" to win the prestigious award.