Simon Kuper interviews Nobel laureate Jean Tirole

FT journalist Simon Kuper has published a wide-ranging interview of French economist Jean Tirole.

Tirole, explains Mr Kuper, “has long sat on the Council for Economic Analysis (CAE), advising prime ministers of right and left”, but has had little influence on government policy.

In part, that’s because economists aren’t heard or understood much in France. Tirole explains: “In France, in most universities you specialise very early but you don’t learn any economics. France came to a market economy pretty late, too. If you think about France, a lot of the decisions were administrative.”

Would-be reformers such as Tirole or economy minister Emmanuel Macron get shouted down with the ultimate French insult: “Libéral!” This essentially means “Laissez-faire capitalist”. Tirole explains: “People don’t know what libéral means. The truth is I don’t know economists who are for laissez-faire, so to speak. They may be for more or less regulation.”

Most French debate is conducted in the language of politics, not economics. Tirole says the tag libéral is used to discredit a speaker’s arguments through an appeal to politics: “‘You are saying X because you must be politically Y.’ That allows people to stop thinking.”

But the French urgently need to start thinking.

Simon Kuper, “French lessons from a Nobel Prize winner“, Financial Times, 5 December 2015 (metered paywall).

I would add that France is not the only country where people need to start thinking. Mr Kuper’s interview covers much more, and is interesting throughout. Were it not for copyright restrictions, I would copy and paste the entire column. I cannot resist, however, posting this short comment of Tirole, on immigration:

“As an economist I think migration is a good thing, but with a small caveat: if you don’t have jobs for them, we’ll get people who will be very unhappy about being in France.”

Read the full interview at the link above. Those who register with FT (no charge) can download three free articles a month.

Jean Tirole (born 1953) was awarded the 2014 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences “for his analysis of market power and regulation”. Since 1991, Jean Tirole has been at the Toulouse School of Economics; he now heads its Institut d’Economie Industrielle. Previously, he was professor of economics at MIT.

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