Further Biographical Information

This is the version, written in April 2024, of a verbal presentation made on the occasion of the Economics Alumni Reception at Throwback 2023 of Carleton University, Ottawa, on September 28, 2023, at the invitation of Simon Power, Professor in Economics at Carleton University.

Life is a series of random events, tied to accidental encounters. I was an undergraduate student at Carleton University between 1972 and 1976. Born in Ottawa, although residing in Hull, Québec, I had spent all of my teenage years in Geneva, Switzerland, and in Paris, France. While my mother was an actress, my father was an economist, who had been a negotiator for Canada at the GATT rounds in Geneva, now the World Trade Organization, and then had been the economic counsellor at the Canadian Embassy in Paris. When we came back to Canada in July 1972, he asked André Raynauld, who was then the president of the Economic Council of Canada, at which university I ought to go. Raynauld suggested Carleton, because the teaching staff was then more dynamic than at the University of Ottawa (UofO). I also preferred to go to Carleton, because I feared that I would get frustrated at the bilingual French-English UofO, being unable to take all of my courses in French, and so opted to go to the all-English Carleton University, where I would know for sure what awaited me in terms of the language of the courses. Raynauld also suggested that I meet a friend of his, the former chair of the Economics department, Gilles Paquet. Paquet advised me to take a course in Canadian Economic History, so as to catch up with Canadian events after my eight consecutive years in Europe, and so I did.

The campus of Carleton University was, and still is, a very green and nice campus, with buildings spread out, surrounded by the Rideau river and the Rideau canal. The first day I went there, in September 1972, I saw all these students jogging around the campus, and I thought that they were training to make sure they would be able to run and get to their classes on time. While I only intended to register in economics, one of the advisors I met had studied in France. Upon realizing that I had successfully passed the examinations of the French baccalauréat série D, with mention Bien, which focused on physics, natural sciences and mathematics, he urged me to drop the math courses for economics students and take instead a four-year double-honours in economics and mathematics, and hence to take the courses designed for math undergraduates. Foolishly I agreed to do so, and so ended right away with two year-long courses in mathematics. I toughed it out for three years, until I was required to take the dreadful Real Analysis I course, barely passing it, which convinced me not to take Real Analysis II, which was also compulsory for Math Honours students. I had taken enough courses to be granted the equivalence of a three-year B.A. degree in mathematics, and from then on my focus was Economics.

Carleton University is also where I started to take fencing seriously. I had finished 2nd at both the U-15 Paris and French championships in saber when residing in Paris, but then, while stilll fencing a couple of times a week, I preferred to focus on a team sport, handball, which was very popular in my school. Walking along the many tunnels that grace Carleton, I saw a poster looking for potential candidates for the Carleton fencing team. The poster said to call Professor John Apsimon, who was then teaching chemistry at Carleton. And so I did. I realized on the phone that Apsimon was very excited at the idea of recruiting somebody who had fenced for four years, and so I decided to join the fencing club. On the team was a student called Allan Parvu who came from Sept-Îles. He had two characteristics: he was the only one of us who owned a car, a Camaro, and he had represented Canada in saber at the 1972 World Junior Fencing Championships. I quickly realized that I was as good as he was, if not better. A few months later I also joined the fencing club of the Recreational Association of the federal civil servants, where Apsimon was coaching and which was nearby Carleton University. As a result, the Association paid my trip to Vancouver where I won the 1973 national junior championship and finished sixth in the seniors.

In April 1974 it was my turn to go to the World Junior Championships, in Istanbul, Turkey, during exam times. We were stuck there longer than expected, because Air France was on strike, and so I missed the final exam in the year-long second-year Algebra course. I had obtained a good mark in the mid-term exam, as I had managed to answer a question that everybody else had messed up, so on my return the teacher asked me if I would agree to be exempted from the final exam remedial and be granted an A-minus. I gratefully accepted, not realizing then that professors hate to write up remedial exams as they have to dream up new questions, something that I came to understand when I myself became a teacher a few years later. Professors were not always that understanding with national-team athletes however. In my last three years at Carleton, I missed three weeks of classes per year on average. In the Fall of 1975, I fenced in the Pan-American Games in Mexico City, and so was away for three consecutive weeks since we had to arrive one week in advance to get acclimatized to the altitude. One of my courses was a third-year course in statistical inference. The instructor had warned us many times about how difficult his course was. However, he was quite dismayed to announce to the class that the student that had gotten the best mark in the mid-term exam, above 90%, was the student that had missed three weeks of classes. In the end, he got his revenge, granting me only a B-plus, because I had missed two assignments due my three-week absence! When I complained, he threatened to lower the mark! As a teacher, I vowed by contrast that I would always be very flexible with the student athletes in my classes who competed either for the university or the national team.

I enjoyed many of the courses and professors at Carleton, and so never regretted my initial choice. The biggest influence on my future, however, was T.K. Rymes. Tom Rymes gave the full-year fourth-year honours seminar. The course tackled all kinds of topics. I still have my notes from this 1975-76 course, as well as the course outline. Guest lecturers came to talk about consumer theory, transactions costs, as well as some issues with general equilibrium theory. Rymes himself made us read Walras, Hahn, Arrow, Chipman, Newman, Meade, Coase, Demsetz, as well as the neoclassical growth model of Solow and Meade. In this first part of the course, we were assigned the textbook on general equilibrium of Harry G. Johnson. The second half of the course was devoted to Keynesian economics, as understood then. That meant reading Patinkin, Clower, Leijonhufvud, Friedman and Keynes on the monetary side. Most fascinating from my point of view were the lectures devoted to the post-Keynesian theories of growth and distribution, from Harrod to Robinson, Kaldor and Pasinetti; Rymes also spent two weeks going over the Cambridge capital controversies. We could hardly understand their intricacies, and we were all wondering why he would bother spending so much time on so arcane issues which obviously he had such difficulties in teaching. I learned a year later, browsing through the shelves of a bookstore in London, England, that in 1971 he had published a whole book on the consequences of the Cambridge capital controversies for the measure of technical progress. Rymes was quite a character, besides having the biggest office at Carleton, due to the immense number of books that he had collected. Despite Rymes being 22 years older than I was, we later became good friends, often discussing monetary economics. We played tennis together numerous times, in particular, when I visited Cambridge in 1985, on the grass court of Wolfson College where he was located during a sabbatical. Following another sabbatical, this time in Australia, Rymes had enclosed in the sabbatical report to his dean a letter from his tennis coach, asserting that he had greatly improved his backhand during his stay in Adelaide!

Having finished all the requirements of the Honours programme in Economics at the end of April 1976, I could focus on my participation to the Montreal 1976 Olympics. I had won the national senior championships in saber in May 1975 and May 1976 and so had earned a berth on the Canadian Olympic team. In the meantime, I had been selected for an interview for a Rhodes scholarship, induced to do so by a club teammate who had been awarded one and had just returned from Oxford University. The interview turned out to be a total disaster. Friends at the fencing club had advised me not to reveal my opinions in favour of an independent Québec to the likely anti-separatist members of the Rhodes committee, so I had submitted a short brief in favour of constitutional reform. Having never seriously thought about such reforms, I did not fare well when faced with the expert lawyers of the committee. I would have been much more at ease to outline arguments justifying why Québec ought to become an independent country, since I had written a series of three articles on the topic for the Charlatan, the weekly journal of the Carleton students. This taught me a lesson, that it was better to be frank about one’s opinions, even if they meant displeasing the audience.

I had also applied for scholarships for the UK, France and Belgium, with the latter application being the only successful one, probably because it was less competitive. I received a letter from the Université Libre de Bruxelles, telling me that I had been accepted in their graduate program and that I would be granted an office. Their program was focused on neo-Walrasian economics. But it was not meant to be my future field of expertise. After the Olympics, I joined my parents in London, England, as my father was now the economic minister-counsellor at the Canadian High Commission. While pondering on my future on the European continent, I received a letter from the Maison des étudiants canadiens, located at the Cité universitaire internationale in Paris, telling me that I had been accepted there and granted access to a room. Thus, my lodging problem in Paris was solved, and so I elected to forsake the Belgium scholarship and move to Paris instead, a city that I knew well and where the quality of fencers was much higher than in Brussels, allowing me to keep on going with my fencing career.

In France, at the time, one did not apply for graduate school several months in advance. Towards the middle or the end of September, one had to show up for an interview for whatever graduate program in economics one was aiming for. I had targeted three universities, Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, Paris 2 Panthéon-Assas and Paris 10 Nanterre. I was not enthralled by my interview at Paris 2. By contrast, the interview with Pierre-Yves Hénin, who was the director of the ‘macroéconomie approfondie’ program at the University of Paris 1 (he eventually became the President of the university), went very well. Hénin suddenly became interested in what I was saying when I told him that one of the books that I had read on my spare time was A Survey on General Equilibrium Systems by Bent Hansen. Whereas candidates are usually advised about their application with a lag, Hénin informed me right away that I was accepted, and hence I did not bother to visit Nanterre. Paris 1 was also my first choice because Gilles Paquet, with whom I had taken a year-long tutorial in my fourth year at Carleton, had met a young French lecturer, Frédéric Poulon, from the University of Paris 1, at a conference in Québec City. Poulon had told Paquet to urge me to contact him if I were to study in Paris. So I did contact him on arrival in Paris, and he encouraged me to apply at Paris 1. I much enjoyed the MA courses that I took at Paris 1 in that macroeconomics stream, with a variety of teachers, some professing very original and idiosyncratic views, such as Jacqueline Fau on monetary economics, while others such as Hénin, were into the then fashionable disequilibrium Keynesian economics à la Malinvaud. There was also a highly structured course on international finance, given by Paul Coulbois, who presented the cambist view of forward exchange markets, which I later showed was fully in accordance with post-Keynesian monetary theory.

PhD programs in France, at least at the time, are not like contemporary PhD programs or like Canadian PhD programs in the 1970s or 1980s. First, there was no doctoral courses, only MA courses. Second, most doctoral students were provided with total freedom regarding the topic and the contents of their doctoral thesis. I must have met my thesis director no more than three times. One could do whatever one desired to work on. And so I worked on post-Keynesian economics, reading and reflecting on the works of Kaldor, Kalecki, Robinson, Pasinetti, Eichner, Kregel, Harcourt, Wood, Marris, Davidson, Weintraub, Minsky among others, trying to link these to the works of Keynesian French economists, such as Alain Parguez, who happened to be a friend of Frédéric Poulon, as both of their fathers were judges. Both of them dealt with what became known as the theory of the monetary circuit, a branch of post-Keynesian economics, and both became promoted to full professors in the Fall of 1977, when I was outlining the plan of my doctoral thesis. It turned out that the thesis director of Parguez, Bernard Ducros, was one of the instructors in the ‘Macroéconomie approfondie’ program at Paris 1. Ducros eventually became my own doctoral thesis director in 1977. I got my PhD at age 25, in May 1979. A quote taken from Tom Rymes’ 1971 book appeared on the very first line of my thesis.

Having no intention to stay in France, I had applied for a teaching position in a couple of universities in Canada, and to a few jobs as an economist, in banks and at the Bank of Canada. General Motors sent me a letter saying they were not hiring foreigners, although my letter of candidacy, sent from France, had specified that I was Canadian. The interview with the Bank of Canada did not go too well, as the interviewer, a monetarist who was later to create a monetary condition index (MCI) which achieved some international success until all central banks moved to interest rate targeting, seemed to understand the implications of my thesis better than I could myself. Before leaving from Paris, I had been interviewed by a Canadian scholar then teaching at Paris 1 on behalf of the economics department of the Université du Québec in Trois-Rivières (UQTR). This was obviously a new experience for him, as he did not really know what questions he ought to ask me. The staff at UQTR in the end preferred to hire someone that they had actually met.

When I arrived back in Canada, just before the Canadian national championships that were being run around Victoria Day in May, I did not know what would happen to me. My Plan B was to continue to study, going into a MBA, since I had been accepted at McGill University. But on arrival at my aunt’s in Hull, I was told that the chair of the department of economics at the University of Ottawa, Stan Judek, had phoned a couple of times, urgently asking to talk to me. What had happened is that the candidate that the department had selected a month before for a two-year position had advised them that he had taken a position at another university. So late in the recruitment season, the department was stuck with no alternative. The chair very much wanted to talk with me, because he had sent a letter to my Paris address, advising me that my application had been seriously considered but that the position had been filled by their number 1 choice. In reality the letter arrived in Paris after my departure, so I had not seen it. I was told later that the number 1 candidate came from the Eastern townships of the Province of Québec, but that he was not bilingual, so that the dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, himself born in these Eastern Townships, frustrated by the candidate’s ignorance of French, had purposefully sat for weeks on the departmental offer, inducing their number 1 candidate to accept a job elsewhere. Judek told me that I had been their number 2 candidate, thanks no doubt to the letters of recommendation that had been provided by my former Carleton teachers, Gilles Paquet and Tom Rymes, both of which were held in high esteem by the members of the recruiting committee at the University of Ottawa. When I met him in his office before my presentation in front of the members of the economics department, the chair of the department told me that he was left with no choice, so that all I had to do to get the two-year replacing job was to show that I could talk for one hour, following which I would be hired nearly on the spot after the deliberation of the departmental council! My presentation was based on a short paper that I had written as an offshoot of the doctoral thesis, outlining a post-Keynesian theory of inflation, mostly based on increases in unit labour costs, comparing it to the standard mainstream stories. The theory was partly inspired by works of Sidney Weintraub, who, it turned out, had been a teacher at the University of Pennsylvania of the chair of the recruiting committee, Ronald Bodkin, who himself had published one of the earliest empirical studies on the Phillips curve, so I suppose he was pleased by the topic and the talk. As a consequence, both the chair of the department and the chair of the recruiting committee were quite keen to have me hired. The dean signed my contract a few days later.

I thus started my career as an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa. At about the same time, a joint PhD program with UofO and Carleton University was put in place. And in 1981, along with three other young colleagues, including another post-Keynesian economist, Mario Seccareccia, I was hired on a tenure-track position. I was awarded tenure in 1984, after a long battle, since both the new chair, the new dean and the departmental teaching personnel committee recommended to turn down my application. The famous Cambridge economist, Nicholas Kaldor, who knew my work on monetary theory, offered to write a letter of support, but this became unnecessary following the positive recommendation of the faculty teaching personnel committee, luckily made up of neutral observers from other social science departments. In just a few years, the atmosphere of the department and the views about pluralism in economics had completely changed. Some influential members of the department held that it was necessary to raise departmental standards and thought that a first step in so doing was to cleanse the department from the influence of young heterodox economists. The Autumn 1983 and Winter 1984 semesters were a tough period, first because of the hassle around tenure, second because I was divorcing from my then wife, and third because of the stress when competing in various fencing events in an effort to make the Olympic team, succeeding in the end in qualifying and participating in the Los Angeles 1984 Olympics. To top it all, I first met my current wife, with whom I have been living now for nearly 40 years, at a Christmas party in December 1983.

The rest of the verbal presentation was devoted to a description of what is post-Keynesian economics, its main characteristics such as the importance of quantity signals relative to price signals or income effects versus substitution effects, its macroeconomic paradoxes, its explanation of the recent burst in inflation rates along with a discussion of profit inflation, its links with the highly popular Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), and an anecdote about a 1986 seminar at Carleton University given by Susan Howard and Kevin Clinton, from the Bank of Canada, who then explained how the Bank could control interest rates despite soon implementing zero reserve requirements, a setup which left everybody totally puzzled, except Seccareccia and myself, because their arguments were fully compatible with post-Keynesian monetary theory.