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Jean-Jacques Laffont, 57; USC Economics Professor, Influential Scholar in Information Theory

May 15, 2004|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

French economist Jean-Jacques Laffont, one of the leading figures in the study of information theory, has died. He was 57.

Laffont died of cancer at his home in Colomiers in the Haute Garonne region of southern France on May 1, according to USC, where Laffont served on the faculty.

Born in Toulouse, France, on April 13, 1947, Laffont earned a master's degree in mathematics from the University of Toulouse and doctorates in economics from Harvard and applied mathematics from the National School for Statistics and Economic Administration in France.

Laffont became an economics professor of international renown, working at various universities and institutions, including the University of Toulouse and USC. He joined the USC faculty in September 2001 and was the first holder of the John Elliott Distinguished Chair of Economics. He was recently named a USC Distinguished Professor, an award given to those who have brought special distinction to the university.

According to a statement from USC, Laffont was a force behind strengthening the economic department's research efforts in theoretical and applied economics. He introduced advanced courses in the rapidly evolving fields of industrial organization and contract theory.

"J.J. Laffont has had a profound impact on our department," said Robert Dekle, head of the USC economics department. "Although he was a great scholar, I remember him as a man of deep judgment, humor and humanity."

Laffont worked for French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin on the economic analysis council and was an associate editor of numerous scientific journals. Laffont's work helped give the University of Toulouse one of the most prestigious economics departments in Europe.

Laffont was a prolific writer, publishing 17 books and more than 200 articles. One of his books, "Incentives in Public Decision Making," and numerous articles written with Jerry Green in the 1970s, are still considered references in the field.

His work ranged from studying the effects of public incentives on regulation to promoting research in developing areas such as China, Africa and Latin America. Shortly before his death, he finished the manuscript for a book dealing with governmental regulation in developing countries for Cambridge University Press.

Considered by colleagues as a possible Nobel Prize candidate, Laffont was named the first French president of the most prestigious economics society, Econometrics, in 1992 and was awarded the Legion of Honor in 2002.

He is survived by his wife and four children.

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