Sir James Mirrlees was born in 1936 in Galloway and attended school in Newton Stewart where he showed proficiency for Mathematics early on, spending his days reading university-level books on the subject. In 1954 he came to the University of Edinburgh and was allowed to start his Mathematics course from its second year whilst also taking a course in Philosophy. A good student, finding the work relatively easy, he won the Napier Medal for his final examination.
Having taken the Cambridge scholarship exam, he earned a grant to study for a second undergraduate degree and left Scotland to go study there aged 21 in 1957. He joined Trinity College and became a 'wrangler', the Cambridge term for the top mathematicians in the class. During this time he attended other classes and started to have an interest in Economics. A tutor allowed him to go on to do further research in the subject after doing a diploma, in 1963 he finished his thesis and started a teaching job in Trinity which had been offered to him before his thesis was even finished. In 1968 he was offered a professorship of economics at Oxford University although he went back to Cambridge in 1995. He has also taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Sir James Mirrlees work in microeconomics is world-renowned. During the 1960s and 1970s he worked on the theory of public economic policy which would eventually earn him the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1996 for his pathbreaking work on the economic theory of incentives under asymmetric information. His economic models, looking at 'moral hazard' and 'optimal income taxation', are standards taught in the discipline. He currently holds the titles of Emeritus Professor of Political Economy at the University of Cambridge and Master of Morningside College at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.