Jean Paul Fitoussi was a friend for many decades and a distinguished academic, but also a prominent applied economist as director of OFCE, the influential economic policy institute at Sciences-Po. His writings range from the theory of inflation and aggregate demand, to unemployment, the international economy, economic policies in crisis conditions to alternative measures of GDP. A delightful little book written recently is devoted to the use of words in economics as a vehicle for prejudices and unproven premises.
Jean Paul was a Keynesian economist and believed that the task of economic policy was to support demand to ensure full employment, but also to fight poverty and exclusion. This did not stop him from writing influential essays on unemployment and low growth in Europe with Edmund Phelps, Nobel laureate in economics in 2006. Together with Amartya Sen and Joseph Stiglitz, other Nobel laureates in economics (in 1998 and 2001 respectively), he launched an ambitious international program for the reformulation of national accounting statistics that took into account inequality and well-being.
His analysis of the economic policies that led to the financial crisis of 2008-09 highlighted that monetary policy has become endogenous and must take on an expansive attitude if we are to ensure that, in economically advanced countries, wage growth and domestic demand are not blocked. In practice, Jean Paul saw the bubble in the prices of financial assets as the illusion of circumventing the falling income of the working classes by inflating the value of their homes and their (albeit limited) financial investments. In this way, however, the financial system collapsed. In the first decade of the new millennium, Fitoussi set up a working group at Luiss University, which included, in addition to Phelps and Stiglitz, also Robert Gordon, Christopher Pissarides (Nobel Prize 2010), Francesco Saraceno and Etienne Wassmer, to study the consequences of the financial crisis on growth and productivity.
These initiatives, which only give us an idea of the breadth of Jean Paul's interests, also underline another aspect of his personality: the ability to establish links between universities, different schools and people across three continents. He generated empathy and friendship among those who had the privilege of working with him and arguing with him. His serenity and inner equilibrium made him listen even to those who had very different ideas.
We will miss his economic culture, his curiosity, his passion for open discussion and his friendship; we are close to his wife Annie in sharing the pain of the loss of Jean Paul.
The original article appeared in Italian in Il Sole 24 Ore.