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“Economic research is particularly active in France”

As the call for applications for the 2024 edition of the Best Young Economist Award – the 25th – opened, we invited Agnès Bénassy-Quéré, the first winner of the prize in 2000, to engage in a retrospective. Here is an overview of what this Economic Research Prize in France tells us.

Since its creation in 2000, the Best Young Economist Prize has been awarded to a total of 88 French economists under the age of 41, including 30 winners of the Prize (sometimes co-winners) and 58 nominees. Almost all of them have pursued their academic careers while strengthening their links with economic policy topics, in fields as varied as macroeconomics, labour economics, finance, taxation, international trade, inequality, industrial policies, development economics, the economics of the environment and climate change, etc.

The Circle can be proud of having distinguished Esther Duflo, who would go on to receive the Nobel Prize in 2019, as well as Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, both of whom later won the John Bates Clarke Medal; but also Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas, future Chief Economist of the International Monetary Fund, and many other economists very involved in the design and evaluation of economic policies, particularly in France. Special mention goes to Philippe Martin, winner of the Prize in 2002 alongside Thomas Piketty. Philippe has dazzled us throughout his all-too-short career by his ability to make research speak, to federate the profession, to breathe a creative and joyful wind into the work of the Council of Economic Analysis and other think tanks, in France and Europe.

Maintaining a link between research and policy

Awarded each year by the Cercle des économistes and the newspaper Le Monde, the Best Young Economist Award is special in that it rewards the combination of academic excellence and relevance in terms of public policy. It plays a key role in identifying young researchers who are still little known to decision-makers and the media. The renewal of the intellectual ecosystem around public policies is a major challenge for the quality of the policies carried out and for the rationality of the debates. In an era marked by the trick and the slogan, this award is priceless. It allows public policies not to be left behind by research advances; and journalists to effectively renew their address books.

This prize benefits from significant media coverage which allows a wide audience to discover the research themes of French economists. It is a privileged way to present the range of research areas covered by economic researchers. Over the past two decades, the prize has made it possible to publicise certain economic issues that until then had not been covered by the French media and were mainly discussed in academic circles. In this way, it helps to correct certain preconceived ideas, such as the idea that economists are prisoners of their models and do not care about citizens’ concerns such as the environment or inequality.

Research rooted in reality

Economic research is particularly active in France. Contrary to a widespread but outdated view, this research is generally not theoretical but actually applied, based on a set of proven statistical methods to identify causal relationships or to quantify the general equilibrium effects of the policies pursued. Thanks to the opening up of microeconomic data and the increase in the quality of doctoral training, France has largely caught up in terms of the evaluation of public policies. Researchers have also made great strides in presenting their work in accessible formats.

While the number of high-level researchers interested in public policy has risen sharply, the trade-off is a certain specialization that is important to respect in order to get the best possible benefit. Don’t ask a winner of the Best Young Economist Award to give an informed answer to any economic question!

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