Edmund Phelps

December 12, 2014

Nobel laureate shares insights on innovation in France and the United States


Edmund Phelps, 2006 Nobel Laureate in Economics and Director of the Center on Capitalism and Society at Columbia University, joined the French-American Foundation to answer a few questions before speaking about his new book, Mass Flourishing: How Grassroots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge, and Change, at a Private Salon Dinner on March 25, 2014. Watch Phelps discuss France, the United States, the historical growth of innovation, and the challenges now facing economies on both sides of the Atlantic below, or read transcripts of his responses at the bottom of this page.

Edmund Phelps, recipient of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Economics, is the McVickar Professor of Political Economy and Director of the Center on Capitalism and Society at Columbia University.

His career began with a stint at the RAND Corporation. Back east in 1960, he held appointments at Yale and its Cowles Foundation until 1966, then a professorship for five years at Penn. In 1970 he moved to New York and joined Columbia in 1971. Phelps’s work can be seen as a program to put “people as we know them” back into economic models – to take into account the incompleteness of their information and their knowledge and to study the effects of their expectations and beliefs on the workings of markets. He has adopted this perspective in studying unemployment and inclusion, economic growth, business swings and economic dynamism. Phelps was elected a Fellow of the National Academy of Science in 1982 and made a Distinguished Fellow of the American Economic Association in 2000. In 2008 he was named Chevalier of the Legion of Honor and was awarded the Premio Pico della Mirandola for humanism and the Kiel Global Economy Prize. In the same year the University of Buenos Aires Law School established the Catedra Phelps for Programs on Dynamism and Inclusion. He also holds many honorary doctorates and several honorary professorships. An extraordinary tribute occurred when scholars came from around the world for a large Festschrift conference in his honor just three weeks after 9/11.

In Mass Flourishing: How Grassroots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge, and Change, Phelps explores the need for the United States, France, and Western economies to overcome stifling regulation to create an environment that promotes innovation and creativity. Phelps draws upon the Industrial Revolution and the Great Depression as key historical examples of the promise and failings in economic and philosophic conditions that allow nations to enjoy economic prosperity.



Your new book is called Mass Flourishing: How Grassroots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge, and Change. Could you elaborate this notion of a “mass flourishing”?



What are the key historical phenomena that inspired innovation in the Western world, notably in France and the United States, and what is the link between these histories and today?



What is the principle lesson from history we can learn to create or re-create a flourishing of innovation and economic prosperity?



In recent years, many critics have claimed that France does not encourage innovation. How can a government stimulate innovation? What one central element is key to facilitate, stimulate, and spur innovation? What role does education play in forming innovative minds?