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European University Institute - Department of Economics

The EUI mourns the loss of Jean-Paul Fitoussi

The EUI President, on behalf of the Institute’s community, offers sincere condolences to the family and loved ones of esteemed economist Jean-Paul Fitoussi. Professor Fitoussi was a long-standing supporter of the EUI and served as a distinguished professor at the Institute from 1979 until 1982.

26 April 2022

Professor Fitoussi was the long-time head of the French Economic Observatory (OFCE), a leading institute dedicated to economic research at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po). His expertise and social thinking led him to become an influential voice in European and global economics during much of his career. While he was very well-known in France and Italy, his work was widely recognised internationally.

Professor Fitoussi earned his PhD cum laude in Law and Economics from the University of Strasbourg. He was Professor Emeritus at Sciences Po and Professor at LUISS Guido Carli University in Rome. Professor Fitoussi was also a member of the Centre for Capitalism and Society at Columbia University in New York.

As a macroeconomist, Fituoussi always put societal welfare and prosperity centerstage in the design of stabilisation policy. His view of the economic system and the role of the economists in modern democracies developed in the best tradition of the post-World War II Keynesian movement. In his many contributions, the problem of delivering a sufficient level of economic activity and employment, while keeping inflation under control and maintaining fiscal and financial stability, is not separable from the problem of reducing income inequality and promoting growth.

Fitoussi was a committed advocate of demand policies cum redistribution as the most efficient strategy to pursue economic and social inclusion. He was a vocal critic of austerity for the sake of balancing the budget, as a costly ideological strategy, indefensible on the ground of good economics.

Over in his career, he stressed the need to widen the range of socio-economic and environmental indicators that governments should consider in the design and assessment of their policies. Fitoussi leaves us at a time in which all these themes are once again defining the core of the academic and policy debates.

Fitoussi held several high-level institutional roles over the years, including expert at the European Parliament, Commission of Monetary and Economic Affairs; member of the Economic Commission of the Nation, member of the Council of Economic Advisers of the Prime Minister, member of the UN Commission on the Reform of the International Monetary and Financial System. He co-chaired the Commission for Economic Performances and Social Progress with Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen. He also co-chaired the High Level Expert Group on the Measurement of Economic Performances and Social Progress with Joseph Stiglitz and Martine Durand. In the early 1990s, he contributed to the creation of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

Professor Fitoussi died in Paris on 15 April 2022. He was 79 years old. The EUI community mourns the loss of Professor Fitoussi and holds the memory of his great contribution to the field of economics.

“There was a time when good, independent, informed economic analysis was expected to play an essential role in our democracies by making voters aware of the costs and consequences of alternative policy choices promoted in the political arena,” said EUI Professor of Economics Giancarlo Corsetti adding “I suspect Fitoussi never gave up on the hope to restore public confidence in economics. He never gave up on his conviction that economic prosperity and democracy cannot go separate ways.”

Jacques Pelkmans, Professor at CEPS, College of Europe, and a member of the EUI-STG External Advisory Board, who was present with Professor Fitoussi on the Institute's first day of operation, shares his homage.

"In the late summer of 1979, Jean-Paul and I arrived at the EUI at the same moment. Fascinated by macro-economics and very much a ‘Malinvaud-ian’ with a keen interest in mathematical economics, Jean-Paul took over the chairmanship of the department and immediately began a series of invited seminars with Nobel prize winners and with those he saw as prospective winners. I had been attracted as associate professor; for me these seminars – not directly in my area of specialisation, economic integration – were a golden opportunity to learn and be stimulated. The series attempted to come to grips with one of the most intricate subjects in economics: the proper micro-foundations of macro-economics. The initiative reflected his vision of the role of the EUI, and the ECON department in particular: leadership and unquestioned excellence.

Of course, even a clear objective does not mean one can expect to realise this at once, and Jean-Paul was conscious of this limitation. Moreover, in those days we had only five full professors and one associate, which inevitably meant that a sole focus on one’s own ‘deep’ specialisation was not feasible. Indeed, we had two colleagues primarily publishing in international political economy, hence working on the other side of the spectrum of rigour in economic analysis. Nevertheless, Jean-Paul steadfastly laid the foundation for a first-class department of economics. He quickly became attached to the department, the EUI and – not to forget – Florence and enjoyed all of it tremendously, also in later years when the EUI still saw him frequently as a visitor from the Quai d’Orsay. The Fitoussis expressed their double loyalty and cultural attachment to Paris and Florence with visible pleasure.

Jean-Paul did make an honest attempt to grasp the crux of my work on economic integration theory and regularly offered suggestions on how to tighten the analysis with more rigour. His mindset was always restless, hoping to address yet another hard analytical puzzle. The EUI has lost an early, very valuable contributor and a most intelligent economist."

Jean Pisani-Ferry, Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa Chair at the Robert Schuman Centre and Professor of Economics, who worked extensively with Jean-Paul Fitoussi pays tribute to him.

C’est au moment de son retour en France, au début des années 1980, que j’ai connu Jean-Paul Fitoussi. Mais c’est surtout à partir de 1992 que nous avons travaillé ensemble, d’abord comme directeurs de deux centres de recherche en économie, l’OFCE (pour lui) et le Cepii (pour moi), avant de devenir collègues à Sciences Po, et aussi amis. Lorsqu’il y a quelques jours, rentrant tout juste d’un séjour à Washington, j’ai retrouvé le bureau que nous partagions à Sciences Po, mon bloc portait encore les conseils gourmands qu’il m’avait donnés en vue de ma prochaine visite à Florence.

D’autres ont, mieux que je n’aurais pu le faire, témoigné de l’apport académique de Jean-Paul. Je voudrais seulement rappeler sa démarche. Il se voulait hétérodoxe, parce qu’il jugeait qu’il y avait plus à découvrir en s’écartant de la ligne qu’en restant dans la ligne. Mais il savait les dangers d’une pensée qui s’en affranchit à ce point qu’elle en finit par se prendre elle-même comme référence. Sa démarche, il l’avait décrite en 1988 dans un livre co-écrit avec Edmund Phelps, The Slump in Europe: “our strategy will be to make a series of departures from the orthodox model, each in a new theoretical direction, always returning to the orthodox basecamp rather than attempting to accumulate the departures as we go”. Hétérodoxe donc, mais intellectuellement discipliné. C’est la corde raide sur la quelle il allait s’attacher à franchir les précipices.

Je voudrais parler du rôle qu’il a joué dans le débat français et européen. Au début des années1990, la cause semblait entendue: il n’y avait qu’une bonne politique. Parce que le système soviétique s’était effondré, parce qu’aux premiers temps du mitterrandisme la gauche était partie trop loin, avec les nationalisations à 100% et la tentation isolationniste de l’autre politique, plus aucun pas de côté ne semblait plus possible. Ce que Jean-Paul a entrepris de faire dans ce contexte, avant de synthétiser sa démarche en 1995, dans Le Débat Interdit, c’est de restituer un espace de discussion. Non pas entre de grandes voies alternatives dont l’heure était passée. Mais sur les stratégies et les moyens. Il était pour la monnaie européenne, pour la stabilité des prix, pour l’équilibre extérieur. Mais il tenait à ce qu’on discute des voies pour y parvenir, qu’on cesse de prétendre que la fin dictait les moyens. Et c’est ce rôle qu’il a assigné àl’OFCE qu’il a dirigé pendant plus de vingt ans. Dans un paysage sensiblement moins divers qu’ilne l’est aujourd’hui, l’institut n’a cessé d’aiguillonner utilement les responsables de la politique économique. 

En 2002 Jean-Paul publie La Règle et le Choix, dont il faut citer in extenso les premières phrases, tant elles sont prescientes: « Telle qu’elle s’est construite, l’Union européenne présente unparadoxe: elle a certes nécessité de notables abandons de souveraineté de la part des États qui la composent, mais elle n’y a encore substitué aucun équivalent à l’échelle communautaire. Privilégiant un mode d’intégration qui consiste surtout à contenir les prérogatives des États àl’intérieur de normes toujours plus contraignantes, elle a peu à peu vidé le siège de la souveraineté nationale sans pour autant investir celui de la souveraineté européenne ». Ces propos étaient, à l’époque, fortement hétérodoxes. Ces lignes qui ouvrent une critique serrée des silences démocratiques de la construction européenne, on les croirait aujourd’hui extraits d’un discours d’Emmanuel Macron, si ce n’est pas d’Ursula von der Leyen. 

En 2009 enfin, il remet au président Sarkozy un rapport préparé avec ses vieux complices Joe Stiglitz et Amartya Sen sur la mesure de la performance économique et du progrès social. La question est celle du PIB, de sa mesure, de ses limites, et des substituts possibles. Quelques années plus tôt, le rapport Stern a relancé la discussion sur les politiques climatiques. 2009 est l’année de l’échec de la conférence de Copenhague, et l’accord de Paris est encore loin. Mais la question des indicateurs et de leur rôle dans la politique économique est déjà posée. Le rapport ne la résout pas, parce qu’elle n’est pas soluble. Mais il l’explore avec une grande clarté, et fournira la base des progrès des comptables nationaux.

Hétérodoxie disciplinée, passion du débat, culte de la démocratie, mentalité de défricheur. C’est tout cela qui va manquer."

 

Photo by Michael Dean. Source: OECD, © OECD 2013

Last update: 28 April 2022

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