مبلمان اداری طراحی قالب وردپرس آموزش ووکامرس طراحی اپلیکیشن ساخت اپلیکیشن صندلی اداری آگهی رایگان آموزش وردپرس آموزش وردپرس

Portrait of Louis-André Gérard-Varet

Louis-André Gérard-Varet, mathematical economics with a social heart

Yves Doazan, CNRS, GREQAM-IDEP

In June 2011, the annual public economics workshop named after Louis-André Gérard-Varet will be celebrating its tenth edition. This will also be the occasion to pay tribute to Louis-André Gérard-Varet, ten years after his passing away. Few economists probably recall that he was part of the generation that introduced mathematical formalization in economics to French universities,[1] and played an important institutional role in that domain.

The intellectual career of Louis-André Gérard-Varet, who became research director at the EHESS (School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences) in 1985, is one of great consistency, combined with a certain degree of complexity. He constantly associated theory and social utility, the abstract and the need for action. As a young student studying both sociology and economics, he soon became convinced that mathematical formalization could be very useful in the social sciences. He chose to specialise in economics, attracted by the abstraction, theory, mathematical rigour and generality, in other words the capacity to develop theories giving rise to the most diverse applications. Claude d’Aspremont, economist at the CORE in Belgium and one of his closest collaborators, described “his well-ordered structure”, in an homage published in the Annales d’Économie et de Statistique[2]: “The first years were devoted to a broad education, laying the foundations of his encyclopaedic knowledge and his conception of a more just society. After his thesis[3], he developed a coherent, long-term intellectual project, of which he knew the social utility.” These theoretical foundations ranged from decision theory to game theory.

The formal approach at the service of the social sciences

Believing that “there is no conflict between the formal approach and the social sciences”, and perceiving, in the tools being developed in game theory in the early 1970s, all the potential they held for application to the field of human and social sciences, he devoted his thesis to decision theory under uncertainty, in other words the foundations of decision theory, under the supervision of Pietro Balestra, specialist in the econometrics of dynamic models with compound errors and of panel data. Pietro Balestra persuaded him to join the CORE (Center for Operations Research and Econometrics) at the University of Louvain, in order to benefit from the guidance of Jacques Drèze and Jean Gabszewicz. The CORE was one of the first research centres in economics, created in 1966 by Jacques Drèze, an extraordinary melting pot of ideas where researchers such as the mathematician Robert Aumann, or the mathematician and economist Werner Hildenbrand, known notably for his contributions to general equilibrium theory, worked and collaborated. With Jean Gabszewicz, they developed the theory of the core of a cooperative game. The CORE played an important role in formalized economics in continental Europe and its development in France.

Louis-André Gérard-Varet spent three years in this research centre, from 1971 to 1974. Here he combined two passions that he had discovered as a teenager, one for mathematical economics and the other for the United States. When he was a high school student in Auxerre, he had spent a year in Dallas as part of an exchange programme, starting up friendships that were to last his whole life and being fascinated by the pragmatism of the Americans. At the CORE, Jean Gabszewicz introduced him to Claude d’Aspremont, who had just returned after completing his PhD on decision theory at Stanford.

His collaboration with Claude d’Aspremont was sealed by the joint reading of an OECD report on the environment. It started with work on incentive theory based on a contract on cross-border pollution in Belgium, in 1974-1975, followed by a programme of research on the problems of mechanism design to create monetary incentives to reveal the private information and strategic behaviour of agents. The same year, Louis-André Gérard-Varet was a visiting researcher at Stanford University for the first time. Their collaboration, which was to be lifelong, produced a series of important articles from the mid-1970s on, including a famous article published in 1979 by the Journal of Public Economics: “Incentives and Incomplete Information”.[4]

Imperfect competition in economics, or the birth of a trio of economists

The numerous intellectual relationships that Louis-André Gérard-Varet maintained were lasting and imbued with solid friendship. We have already mentioned Jean Gabszewicz. His humorous account of their meeting in Louvain-la-Neuve, in Belgium, is well worth reading.[5] We can also cite, at the risk of omitting certain names, Hervé Moulin, Jacques Cremer, Jean-Michel Grandmont, Alan Kirman, and Philippe Michel, whom he brought to the GREQAM (Aix-Marseille Research Group in Quantitative Economics) in Marseille. The relations between Gérard-Varet, Claude d’Aspremont and Rodolphe Dos Santos were certainly the most productive. They transcended the disappearance of the former, giving rise to posthumous publications. The “almost legendary” trio, to quote Gabszewicz, published “no less than twenty articles together, in international journals:[6] American Economic Review, Quarterly Journal of Economics, Journal of Economic Theory, or in French journals like the Annales d’Économie et Statistique and the Revue d’Économie Industrielle.”

The three friends did not all meet at the same time, and it was Louis-André Gérard-Varet who brought them together. However, their friendships followed similar paths, characteristic of their approach and generating dynamic interaction between theory and applications. In 1979, Gérard-Varet sat the agrégation exam, and it was on the day the results were announced that he met Rodolphe Dos Santos, dean of the Faculty of Economics and Management at the Louis Pasteur University in Strasbourg[7]. Their first exchange occurred during a dinner that Rodolphe Dos Santos still remembers as one of the important intellectual moments in his life. Their first collaboration concerned unemployment. They ventured to work on the interface between macroeconomics and game theory, with the former of these two dimensions being contributed by Rodolphe Dos Santos.[8] Gérard-Varet made rare incursions into macroeconomics thanks to Alan Kirman, his previous works having been in microeconomics. Gérard-Varet organised the meeting between Dos Santos and d’Aspremont, his idea being to set up a three-way collaboration. Their first exchanges concerned imperfect competition and macroeconomics, and this was the subject of one of their first joint publications. Later were to come works on general equilibrium theory.

Their immediate meeting of minds was nurtured by complementarity. With a wealth of intersections, it ranged from modelling to economic thought, informed by a wide-ranging curiosity drawing on epistemology, history, sociology or literature. Their works were devoted to oligopolistic competition (in macroeconomics, general equilibrium and industrial economics), and more general questions of a conceptual, epistemological or historical nature. The three brothers-in-arms sought to introduce imperfect competition into macroeconomics. This last theme was also the subject of research undertaken with Philippe Michel. At the same time, Claude d’Aspremont and Louis-André Gérard-Varet pursued their collaboration on public economics and incentive theory.

This theoretical research was often accompanied by more practical applications, through research contracts. Claude d’Aspremont has explained how these contracts were chosen on the basis of two criteria: “either because they allowed to verify or apply their economic theories, or because they could lead to the publication of articles in good international journals”, adding that Louis-André Gérard-Varet instilled this culture into the CORE during the first half of the 1970s.

The work of a visionary

Gérard-Varet understood better than anyone, from the end of the 1980s, the changes that were going to affect research, and he marked them with the seal of rigour and excellence, long before the latter term became overused. A way of pursuing a republican ideal, inherited from his grandfather, Radical MP and recteur de l’Académie (chief education officer) in Rennes, a role model, and from his mother, a high school principal. His curiosity and energy led him to address the question of “interdisciplinarity” with the sociologist Jean-Claude Passeron. A seminar gave rise to the book Le modèle et l’enquête,[9] in which the two researchers explored the use of the principle of rationality in the social sciences to “analyse, interpret and explain behaviour”. This meeting took place in Marseille, where Louis-André Gérard-Varet had joined the GREQE[10] in the mid-1980s. Created by Alan Kirman, the GREQE became the GREQAM in 1994.[11] At the same time (1985), Louis-André Gérard-Varet became research director in the École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS).

At the beginning of the 1990s, he perceived the need to create an important centre of economics along the same lines as those established in the United States. His strategy had three main elements: to bring local economists together in one laboratory so as to create synergies and, at the very least, visibility in the French and international academic landscape; to give this centre a specific identity, which was to be focused on public economics,[12] and to exert international influence through connections and collaborative projects with prestigious laboratories. To achieve these objectives, he created three complementary structures: the GREQAM, the IDEP (Institute of Public Economics) and the LEA (Associated European Laboratory).

The GREQAM was formed by bringing together the economists from different research centres in the Aix-Marseille region: the GREQE, of course, the CRIDESOPE (centre for interdisciplinary research in social ethics and economic philosophy) and the LEQAM (Aix-Marseille laboratory of quantitative economics). The aim was to create a major centre of economic research in Marseille. Alongside this research centre, two laboratories “without walls” were created: the IDEP and the LEA.

The IDEP took a long time to come to fruition. The objectives of this institute were clearly defined as early as 1991 by Louis-André Gérard-Varet and Michel Le Breton, soon joined by Hervé Moulin. But the IDEP itself was not created until 1996. Spearhead of the Aix-Marseille centre’s identity, the Institute was intended to create a network to unite the economists working in the field of public economics in France and, to a lesser extent, abroad. The IDEP’s objectives are to produce basic and applied research, to provide training for executives and managers in public authorities and enterprises and to serve – at that time already – as a tool to assist public decision-making. At a time when the exploitation of research was still unheard of in the social sciences, the IDEP project was a forerunner.

The LEA was the international showcase of the centre. It operated for ten years (1997-2007). Initially, it comprised two laboratories, the CORE and the GREQAM, and was later extended to include the GREC (research group of Catalan economists) from the Autonomous University of Barcelona. It was the result of international programmes of scientific cooperation. Research, both theoretical and applied, gave rise to collaboration on four main themes (normative economics and the foundations of public policy; choice under uncertainty and epistemic logic; strategic foundations of industrial organisation, and econometric methods) resulting in joint publications. The LEA was replaced in 2010 by an international research group (GDRI) comprising the same laboratories together with the University of Kyoto (Japan) and the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM, Canada).

 

A passion for passing on knowledge

Louis-André Gérard-Varet shared and transmitted his passion for exacting and rigorous research to the young economists he taught. Many of them have now taken over at the GREQAM. The list of his publications with young co-authors is long and varied: one only has to look at his bibliography. The enthusiasm for passing on knowledge was also expressed in teaching, where he excelled. His former students describe as a man of the theatre in the lecture hall. Rodolphe Dos Santos, recalling a joint seminar they presented not long after their first meeting, before they knew each other very well, describes an improvisation between two actors and a feeling of live performance. A theatre of reflection in action: scientific reflection in constant movement, supported by mathematical reasoning.

Within his family, transmission was more synonymous with socialization. Louis-André Gérard-Varet’s son David, now a mathematician, discovered the attraction of academic circles and his certainty of wanting to choose this path when he was very young. He remembers evenings spent in the family flat with Claude d’Aspremont, Rodolphe Dos Santos and Louis-André Gérard-Varet. He has been profoundly influenced by the three men’s intellectual and amicable relations. His feeling of great freedom and immense pleasure is confirmed by the two friends of his father: “We had such fun!” He affirms that his father taught him intellectual rigour, but not the idea of following in his footsteps: “I cannot confirm that it was my father who got me to study mathematics; he exerted no pressure on me at all, unless he did so with extreme subtlety (laughs)! At high school I enjoyed the arts as much as maths, and I remember speeches from Le Cid that we used to recite during his morning work-out.” His one regret: not having had the time to share with his father the pleasure of exchanges on mathematics, which could have become a shared field. Their father-son relationship, in which “things were diffused more than they were actually said”  probably developed his taste for abstraction, for “the perfect universe woven by maths”; a universe that combines, in David’s research, theory and applications. Like the research of his father, which, as Claude d’Aspremont recollects, had to “find practical expression and be of service to the wider community”.



[1]  Mathematical formalization was taught in engineering courses in the grandes écoles, where there was a long tradition in this domain, reaching back to Cournot (1838).

[2] Annales d’Économie et de Statistique n°62, April-June 2001.

[3] He was a student at the University of Dijon, where he defended his thesis in economics in 1973.

[4] Claude d’Aspremont, Louis-André Gérard-Varet, 1979, “Incentives and Incomplete Information”, Journal of Public Economics, vol.19, n°1, 123-149.

[5]  Revue d’Économie Politique, 2001/4, vol. 111, 505-509

[6] Ibid.

[7] Gérard-Varet taught there, as professor, from 1980 to 1983, while at the same time playing a role in the teaching at the universities of Aix-Marseille III and then Aix-Marseille II.

[8] Rodolphe Dos Santos had also worked in the fields of general equilibrium theory and the history of thought.

[9] Le modèle et l’enquête, Louis-André Gérard-Varet, Jean-Claude Passeron, 1995, Editions de l'EHESS, Paris.

[10] Research Group in Quantitative Economics and Econometrics, located in Marseille. He arrived here in 1985 but had already taught in Marseille for nearly a year and a half, between September 1978 and December 1979.

[11]  I would like to thank Jean-Benoît Zimmermann and Isabelle Mauduech, respectively director and general secretary of the GREQAM, for their precious help in retracing the history of this research centre and in understanding the work pursued by Louis-André Gérard-Varet over the last ten years of his life.

[12] Public economics has been defined by Nicolas Gravel, the current scientific director of the IDEP, as “the branch of economics that studies the causes and the consequences of public intervention in the economic sphere”.

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