Economics Professor Edmund Phelps Awarded France’s Légion d’Honneur

July 2, 2009Bookmark and Share

On June 29, Edmund Phelps, the McVickar Professor of Political Economy and director of Columbia’s Center on Capitalism and Society, was awarded the order of Chevalier of the French Légion d’Honneur, France’s highest distinction, in a ceremony in Paris. The award recognizes his “remarkable economic work” and “distinguished achievements in promoting French-American cooperation and friendship,” according to an official letter from the French Embassy.

Professor Edmund Phelps
Professor Edmund Phelps at the award ceremony
Phelps’ award was conferred by Jean-Paul Fitoussi, president of the OFCE (French Economic Observatory), who introduced Phelps as “a giant in the field of economics” and lauded his contributions, which “have altered traditional ways of thinking.” The Légion d’Honneur was established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 to commend citizens and soldiers.  It is unusual for an American to receive the award.
A number of French dignitaries attended the Légion d’Honneur ceremony, including Christine Lagarde, economic minister; Lucas Papademos, vice president of the European Central Bank; Jean-Philippe Cotis, president of INSEE (National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies); and Judge Alice Pezard of France’s Supreme Court. Fellow Columbia faculty members in attendance included Saskia Sassen, the Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology, Richard Robb, professor of professional practice of international finance, and Graciana del Castillo, senior research scholar and associate director of the Center on Capitalism and Society.
Phelps, who was awarded the 2006 Nobel Prize in Economics, first became known for his research on the sources of economic growth at Yale’s Cowles Foundation in the early 1960s. His most influential work was a rudimentary theory of a “natural” rate of unemployment: its existence, its size and how market forces may drive actual unemployment from it. Work in this area had a large impact with the arrival of the conference volume he organized in 1970, Microeconomic Foundations of Employment and Inflation Theory.
His recent work, according to Fitoussi, addresses the role of share prices, exchange rates and the value in the determination of the volume of structural unemployment. “If we want to understand the present crisis” in the global economy, Fitoussi said, “we have to read his work.”
Phelps’s award is among several important honors recently given to Columbia faculty, including Executive Vice President for Research David Hirsh, who received an honorary degree from the University of Glasgow. Hirsh is also a professor in the department of biochemistry and molecular biophysics. Hirsh was recognized for his pioneering work in developmental genetics, his contributions to biotechnology and his leadership at Columbia, where he has fostered close collaborations with the University of Glasgow in fields like cardiovascular disease and public health.
In addition, Abhay Pasupathy, assistant professor of physics, received the 2009 McMillan Award, given in honor of the late William L. McMillan, physics professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The award is given for outstanding achievement by a young researcher in the field of condensed matter physics.
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