Joachim Fritz-Vannahme
14. November 2019

Why #Frenchies economists are top

The “Frenchies”, they are called in the USA. In the meantime, they have also been noticed in Europe, “The incredible success of the French economists” was recently a big headline for the Parisian daily Le Monde and worth almost a whole page.


The new ‘Nobel Laureate #Esther_Duflo

The “Frenchies” are the new Nobel Prize winner Esther Duflo (at 47 the youngest and only the second woman ever to receive this award), of course the tireless and world-famous #Thomas_Piketty with his studies on inequality and wealth (his new book “Capitalism and Ideology” was immediately available in English in 2019, the German edition is a long time coming), and his co-combatants Gabriel Zucman and Emmanuel Saez. In addition, Thomas Philippon and, of course, Olivier Blanchard, “Oldie but goodie” and long-time Chief Economist of the International Monetary Fund, now at the renowned Peterson Institute.

Strictly speaking, Jean Tirole (Nobel Prize 2014) and Philippe Aghion (who taught at Harvard for a long time, today at the Collège de France, together with Erich Fehr, see below, European honorary member of the venerable American Economic Association) must also be included. Their business cards are adorned by affiliations with Harvard, MIT, Berkeley, New York.


Are the French simply the better mathematicians?

“There is a disproportionate presence of the French at the forefront, both in academic research and in the American economic debate,” Harvard professor and former Obama advisor Jason Furman told Le Monde about this transatlantic phenomenon. And the reason? “The elite level of mathematical education in France is simply better than in the US,” Furman replies.

So are German economists the worse mathematicians, because they obviously don’t come close to the fame and rank of their French colleagues in the USA?

The French foster father of many of these younger economists is sitting in the Parisian elite university Ecole normale supérieure. Daniel Cohen, a top university and media address in France, has trained many of the French US stars – and then sent them overseas: “For them theory is just an instrument. They found their way to economics with one goal – to understand the world,” Cohen explains.


#Ordoliberalism – how do you translate that?

So do German economists want less to understand the world? Well, maybe they first want to understand this world in their own sense – #Ordoliberalism, “Schwarze Null” or the break-even point, debt brake, all very German economic inventions. Not wrong, but often difficult to translate internationally and even more difficult to communicate.

Every year the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) publishes a ranking of the most influential and best economists in Germany. First place: Erich Fehr, Professor of Behavioural Economics (the branch bore fruit especially in the USA, see George Akerlof, Robert Shiller or Daniel Kahneman). Fehr, however, does not teach in Germany, but at a certain distance in Zurich.

So are German economists no longer nobelisable? The last and only German Nobel Prize winner in economics was Reinhard Selten – in 1994, an eternity ago.

“Whether climate change, dangerously increasing inequality or the crisis of globalization – the need for completely new answers is great,” was the leitmotif at the Forum New Economy in Berlin at the beginning of November. The new forum with international economists from both sides of the Atlantic aims to “bring together innovative economic thinkers and political actors in Berlin”. At best, German economic orthodoxy was sparsely represented there.


In Berlin they are looking for innovative economic thinkers

In short, things can’t stay the way they are in Germany. The defiance of the world-hungry Forum economists is unmistakable. By the way, their keynote speaker came from the USA, even though his origin is European –Belgrade-born Branko Milanovic from New York.

This brief status report, certainly incomplete, is necessary because most prominent German economists have a considerable influence not only on public thinking, but also on political action in their own country.

Yet on the other side of the Rhine and Oder their theories and arguments find little attention. Such a shame, the world understands modern economics differently: it prefers to listen to the “Frenchies”.


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