Interview with Julien Grenet from PSE

id4

Julien Grenet is a researcher at the CNRS, an Associate Professor at Paris School of Economics, and one of the founders of the Institut des Politiques Publiques. He is specialised in education economics, public economics and market design. He is known by the general public for his participation in the public debate and the vulgarisation of economic concepts in some media such as France Culture.

 

He agreed to talk to the magazine about his work as a researcher, the importance for economists to be involved in the public debate and about modern issues that the french educational system is facing today.

 

Why did you create l’Institut des Politiques Publiques? What are its specificities?

We created l’Institut des Politiques Publiques – IPP – with Antoine Bozio in 2011. It followed a six-year period that Antoine spent in London working for the Institute for Fiscal Studies – IFS, which is our main inspiration for IPP. What was lacking in France was an institute that evaluates public policy, tries to put together the insights of academic research and translates them into policy brief reports targeting a broader audience such as policymakers, journalists and citizens. We felt that there was a very good academic research in public policies existing in France, but most of the results were not really conveyed to the general debate, which is, in my opinion, quite unfortunate. IFS was a good model to import in France. We started small but we have  grown up ever since, trying to cover a broad range of topics that are interesting for the public debate, such as tax policies, education, housing, pension, and environment. We also work on health issues.

What is your opinion, as a researcher, on the role of economists in the public debate?

I do not want to be judgmental on what we should do or not do. There are different ways to contribute to the public debate. From my point of view, you do so through the academic output you produce that then spills over onto the public debate. You should also try to meet policymakers. The important thing is to participate in the debate on topics that you know, and only on them. Unfortunately, it is not always the case, and that sort of attitude may damage the reputation of economists. I am personally trying to restrict my interventions to questions on education or housing, since I have worked on it.

Why did you choose to study education, and more specifically social segregation and selection processes, as your main topic?

I started to study education because it was the topic of my Master thesis. What drove me to this is that I come from a family of teachers whose social mobility upwards was entirely due to school.  I was shocked in a way by the fact that through the education system, my family managed to climb up the social ladder. Today, we sometimes have the impression that it does not play this role anymore, and we wonder what is wrong with our educational system. I think the tools of economists have a lot to say. What we can learn with economics is improving the efficiency of the educational system.

I went into it for personal reasons; afterwards, the topics that I have addressed are more random. I started working on the return of education, which is a very classic question. Then, since I was working in the same office as Gabrielle Fack, who was working on housing, we thought about working on something in between those two fields of interest. We started working on the effect of school zoning (“la carte scolaire” in French) on housing prices. We thought that this system was one way to assign students to schools, but we actually found out there were many others. We started reading about the school choice mechanism and got interested in that. It is a very dynamic field in economics: how to assign students to schools? How to assign teachers to schools? How to drive students to higher education programs?

In France, there has been a lot going on on the subject lately, and this is important for the public debate. We heard a lot about Admission Post Bac and Parcoursup; those are, in my opinion, important technical tools for policy implications or policy effects. We empirically know quite little about how their effect in the real world. I think this is where we, as economists, can contribute: by improving these tools.

According to the OECD, France is one of the most unequal countries in terms of climbing up the social ladder. What is your analysis?

I think that there are many reasons to it; yet, we can hardly identify them. What the OECD has shown is that at the age of 15, your performance is more determined by your social background in France than in any other country. France is typically in the top three countries where social determinism is the strongest at school.

One reason is that our educational system, especially the middle school system – between 11 and 15 years old – is highly segregated. From research, we know that ghetto schools harm students who are studying there beyond the effect of social background. This segregation in the school system increases inequalities. This might be due to different things: the level of residential segregation is very high in France, and the way we assign students to schools is far from being optimal. As we are assigning students to their local school, if the neighborhood is segregated, then the school is going to be segregated too.

There are many other ways to assign students that we could use. For instance, there is what we call “control school choice” that tries to achieve a balance in the social composition. We could also redesign the school boundaries, or “school catchment”, so that they would be more diverse in their intake students. That is one important topic to be addressed: can we reduce segregation in school by using different methods of assignment?

There is also a problem with how teachers are assigned to school. Typically, young teachers, who are inexperienced, are assigned to the most deprived schools in France, which is obviously a problem. We know that teachers have their biggest efficiency improvement during their first few years of teaching. Hence, students from deprived schools have less probability to benefit from the most efficient teaching.

There is also an issue with the educational system. The French system is very good at selecting an elite and the whole system is created to detect these students who go all their way up to “classes préparatoires”, “grandes écoles” and so on. However, it is not so good to have as many students as possible to succeed. We have a very strong elite but, in the meantime, we are losing a lot of students along the way. France has a high drop-out rate: many students quit school with no certification. Another problem with the system is that vocational courses are seen as a personal failure, unlike many other countries. Therefore, a lot of students who follow this path feel like they failed their studies.

Your research focuses on assignment algorithms. What consequences did you find of such algorithms on students’ choices?

France is a very centralised country; hence, it is more inclined to use these algorithms to assign students and teachers than other countries. There has been very little involvement of researchers and economists to design these algorithms. In fact, a lot of research on this assignment mechanism comes from the U.S.. It is a branch of design mechanism theory which received a lot of visibility thanks to the Nobel prize of Alvin Roth and Lloyd Shapley in 2012. They really transformed the landscape in many dimensions:  for example, the assignment of students to school in the U.S. has been completely redesigned in many cities using these algorithms. Kidney exchanges now rely on these algorithms, and there are many new applications, such as social housing allocation.

In France, in my opinion, the main problem is the fact that there is not enough transparency about these algorithms. They exist in order to produce the best possible matching between students and schools, to try to maximize satisfaction while respecting several priority rules. The problem is that, the way the algorithms and the priority rules work are not well known. This has led many people to reject the whole idea of selecting people with algorithms because they feel that there is a black box, like a lottery, when in fact, an algorithm is just a tool.

What really matters is the way you design priorities. If you have two students who apply to a school and there is only one seat left, which student has the priority over the other is a political decision depending on which criteria you promote – students with better grades, students who live closer to the school, students with a lower social background, … This is not sufficiently explained and democratically decided. The issue today is to bring research into these algorithms, so that there are more discussions and a better understanding of the way they work.

You are currently working on a project on social mix. Why it is a topic of interest? What are your preliminary results and your analysis?

We have already said that the lack of social mobility is one of the reasons why there is so little mobility upward in France. The question is how to address this problem. We have several potential ways of doing it. We could use the  , we could redesign the school catchment area, we could also close some schools and send some students away from their original choice, like in the city center rather than in a suburban area.

We do not have many empirical results telling us in which case we should use this or that tool nor do we know the actual effect of some tools on segregation. Moreover, these effects are mitigated by the behavior of the parents: if they decide to send their child to a private school, we might not get as much social mix as we initially wanted. Therefore, we are trying to evaluate different ways to assign students to school in order to create social mix and evaluate their effect. To do so, we are using several experiments that were launched across the country, and we try to compare the effect of these experiments on social mix.

The reason why we want to increase social mix is because we believe it is going to reduce inequalities. We are interested in the effect of social mixing on both students’ performance and their non cognitive aptitudes: their self-confidence, their social fatalism and the way they perceive others – the perception of difference. What we are trying to use here is the fact that, in some experiments, even if we found a large effect on social mix,

We try to evaluate this through surveys that are conducted in schools. We are now proceeding in the second wave; two other waves  are coming. What we try to evaluate is how does the change of the school social composition individually affect the students through their performance in school and their non-cognitive outcomes. If we look at the literature, there is no evidence of this, especially on the non-cognitive aptitudes, because we cannot really measure it with administrative data. We need to go to the schools and directly ask students some questions. That is our contribution to the literature: trying to answer one of these questions.

Finally, what results in your research were you surprised of?

I did not anticipate the fact that this students’ assignment mechanism would have such a big impact on the composition of schools. I started to work on these assignment mechanisms looking at several high schools in Paris. In 2013, the educational authority of Paris adopted an algorithm to replace the manual procedure. As a part of the algorithm, they created a bonus for low-income students. This bonus would increase their priority, and as a result, the social segregation in high schools in Paris went down by 30 % in only two years, which is huge. This had not been anticipated by the local education authority because they did not think that the way the bonus had been created would make that bonus so large. They did not realise that they gave almost automatically their first choice to low-income students. This completely changed the landscape of Paris, which was the most segregated area in France. This is no longer the case.

By working on this data, I realised that these tools are in fact even more powerful than any reform. For instance, the “assouplissement de la carte scolaire” was relaxing these schools’ catchment areas, so that students could apply to schools that are away from their homes. In reality, this had very little effect on the social composition, whereas these school choice algorithms, like the one implemented in Paris, had a huge impact with very little coverage in the media. The numbers shown in the graph are explanatory: the low-income students now have a bigger set of choices than before. This is one of the surprises of research and economics: it is not because something is not looked upon by researchers or does not get any attention, that it is not existing. You can be like an archeologist: you can dig the results up that were unknown until now and they can change the way you see and understand the educational system.

 

By Thomas Séron

Interview : Kamel Daoud

Kamel Daoud est un écrivain et journaliste algérien. Après une carrière au Quotidien d’Oran ponctuée par la rédaction de nombreuses chroniques, il se voit décerner le prix Goncourt du premier roman en 2015 pour Meursault, contre-enquête. The TSEconomist est allé à la rencontre de cet écrivain et vous propose dans les lignes qui suivent une réflexion sur notre rapport à l’identité et à la littérature.

L’identité nationale se construit à partir d’imaginaire, de certains actes marquants, de l’interprétation que l’on en fait, ou du souvenir qu’il en reste. Pourquoi, d’après-vous, ce sont les images et les récits plutôt que les idées qui contribuent le plus à la fabrique de l’identité nationale ? (Mehdi)

Je pense que l’imaginaire conditionne l’idée que l’on se fait de sa propre identité parce que c’est ce qui se transmet en premier dans le milieu familial. Les histoires qu’on nous raconte nous font rêver. La mémoire et l’identité sont d’abord transmises par le milieu familial, par les parents, les grands-parents, les gens autour de vous. Cela commence avec des récits, des histoires, des souvenirs, des images, avant d’arriver à l’âge où on peut conceptualiser, avoir des idées, à partir de vingt ans ou plus tard.

L’identité c’est d’abord des mémoires, des sculptures, de l’art, avant d’être des idées.

Vous avez dénoncé, lors de votre venue à Toulouse, le silence pesant qui avait fait suite à la guerre civile en Algérie. Vous avez encouragé les algériens à en parler, en reconnaissant que cela n’était pas chose facile. Pourquoi la littérature, qui semble la plus apte à briser ce silence – à travers la fiction notamment – a tant de mal à le faire, encore à ce jour ? (Rémi)

Je pense qu’il y a plusieurs raisons à ce silence-là. D’abord, cela peut être expliqué par la proximité. C’est une guerre qui vient de finir il y a à peu près dix ans et on en voit encore les séquelles. La deuxième raison, c’est que je pense que les imaginaires ne se commandent pas. On peut vouloir rêver mais on ne commande pas le menu de ses rêves. C’est lié à votre capacité à admettre les refoulements, à imaginer, à supporter la douleur de l’expression, dire les choses qui vous ont fait mal. La littérature c’est une façon de rêver et le rêve ne se commande pas.

C’est aussi dû au fait que c’est une guerre qui reste encore inexplicable. Dans une guerre classique, on sait qui est coupable, on sait qui est tueur, on identifie le mort. Dans les guerres civiles, il est très difficile de savoir qui est coupable même si schématiquement on peut dire que ce sont les premiers qui ont attaqué les deuxièmes ou que ce sont les deuxièmes qui ont déposé des bombes en premier etc. La vérité est alors très floue et la responsabilité l’est encore plus.

La troisième raison est qu’il faut que ce travail ne soit pas uniquement fait par la littérature mais aussi par les institutions – je parle de l’école, des médias, des historiens, des élites universitaires.
Je pense aussi que c’est lié à l’histoire immédiate de l’Algérie. Ce pays a été saigné de ses élites parce que c’est une guerre qui a pris en sandwich les élites qui étaient très peu autonomes. Beaucoup de gens sont partis, beaucoup de gens ne veulent plus revenir sur cette guerre car ils reviennent sur les raisons de leur départ, sur une douleur intime et personnelle.
Il y a aussi une autre raison liée au système d’intérêt éditorial. On peut écrire sur la guerre d’Algérie, encore faut-il que cela intéresse le marché éditorial français.

Vous avez soutenu à maintes reprises que dans le monde dit arabe, on ne parlait pas l’arabe littéraire qui est réservé aux plus érudits. Pour parvenir à une démocratisation de la culture, est-ce que vous pensez qu’il faille passer par un enrichissement de l’arabe dialectal ou par une vulgarisation – au sens de simplification – de l’arabe littéraire ? (Mehdi)

Je n’aime pas certaines expressions, comme “arabe littéraire”, car cela veut dire que l’autre est un arabe de rue, un arabe plébéien. Il n’y a pas d’arabe « littéraire ». Il y a la langue arabe et il y a les langues algériennes comme le tamazight, darija et autres. Je n’aime pas cette hiérarchie de caste qui consiste à dire qu’il y a une langue classique, une autre qui ne l’est pas. C’est comme si je disais “En France, vous parlez Latin, et vous parlez un latin de rue – à propos du Français”. Ce n’est pas le cas. Dans le monde dit arabe, personne ne parle arabe. Chaque pays parle sa propre langue. Ce ne sont pas des langues institutionnalisées. Il y a un grand linguiste en Occident qui disait qu’une langue est un dialecte avec une armée, ou un Etat, qui est derrière. Donc si ces langues-là avaient un pouvoir politique, si on avait un roi avec une académie des langues algériennes, nous aurions eu des langues algériennes et aussi la langue arabe. Je ne suis pas quelqu’un qui refuse la langue arabe, mais ce que je n’aime pas c’est l’usage idéologique, identitaire et de caste que l’on en fait. Je n’aime pas qu’il y ait une sorte de hiérarchie des langues. Les expressions, qu’elles soient artistiques ou d’idées… il y a une loi de la nature : elles viendront. Elles se sont exprimées en arabe dit « littéraire » il y a quelques siècles, elles s’expriment en d’autres langues, maintenant en Français ou en Anglais ou en Chinois, et je pense que dans notre propre pays, avec la consolidation de l’Etat nation, avec la consolidation de l’identité, nous allons enrichir nos propres langues et nous allons y exprimer nos idées. Déjà, les chansons qui nous touchent le plus en Algérie, ce ne sont pas les chansons chantées en arabe mais celles chantées en tamazight, en algérien ou en oranais comme le raï. La chanson exprime d’ores et déjà ce que nous ressentons, cette chaire et ce corps qui sont niés par un clergé. J’éclaircis mes positions : je ne suis pas contre la langue arabe. L’arabité m’appartient, et je ne lui appartiens pas. C’est ce que je répète souvent. Je suis contre l’usage idéologique, contre l’usage de caste et de domination de cette langue. Ce n’est pas nous qui excluons la langue arabe de notre patrimoine mais c’est elle qui nous exclut.

Vous avez dit, et même écrit, que l’écriture était la seule ruse contre la mort. Est-ce que vous concevez l’écriture comme une ruse qui permet d’avoir le dessus sur la mort – grâce à la postérité par exemple – ou est-ce que la ruse c’est d’utiliser la mort comme le moteur de l’écriture ?(Rémi)

La littérature assure la postérité mais aussi l’antériorité. C’est à dire, la mémoire, et la mémoire transmise. On me pose souvent cette question sur cette expression sur ce roman-là, Zabor, où j’ai parlé de l’écriture comme étant une des rares ruses contre la mort. Effectivement, vous lisez les œuvres, vous parlez à quelqu’un qui est mort depuis mille ans. Parce que vous en lisez les œuvres et vous allez écrire peut-être un livre que des gens qui ne sont pas encore nés vont lire. Je pense que dans notre pratique, l’art, la littérature, l’image, l’icône sont ce que nous avons trouvé comme moyens pour surmonter le temps et la distance. Je peux discuter avec vous alors que je n’ai jamais eu l’occasion de vous rencontrer parce que vous me lisez, ou bien le contraire. Je peux mourir, et continuer cette conversation et ainsi de suite. Donc c’est une forme d’éternité maîtrisée. C’est une forme de prière qui ne demande pas la soumission et ça, c’est quelque chose de très important. Maintenant pour la mort, je pense que la mort est fondamentale pour toutes les cultures. La redéfinir, ne pas l’affronter, en parler, la mettre au centre de notre culture n’est pas quelque chose de pathologique. La mort est essentielle, la mort est là. On parle du mystère de la mort, mais ce qui est inexplicable c’est la vie, pourquoi nous sommes là. La mort c’est une fin en soi mais autour de ce vide on peut construire l’intensité de la vie, la précarité de la vie, l’inexplicable et l’absurde de la vie, la chance unique d’être vivant. Autant de choses qui peuvent être construites autour de ce puits sans fond qu’est la mort. C’est une réflexion essentielle pour la civilisation. On a commencé à être des êtres civilisés lorsqu’on a inventé la sépulture, c’est à dire lorsqu’on a plus ou moins donné corps au vide.

On vous a souvent demandé quelles étaient vos habitudes d’écriture, vos rituels, la vitesse à laquelle vous écrivez. Pourriez-vous nous parler de Kamel Daoud lecteur ? (Mehdi)

Je lisais énormément. Je suis d’abord un lecteur. J’aurais voulu être un lecteur toute ma vie. Maintenant je suis devenu écrivain parce que parfois j’ai envie de lire certains livres que je ne trouve pas donc je finis par les écrire ou par en rêver. Pour moi, le rare moment d’apesanteur c’est de choisir un livre et de le lire. Je n’aime pas, par exemple, lire sur commande. Je n’aime pas lire un livre car il vient d’être publié, et ensuite avoir un avis sur ce celui-ci. J’aime les digressions. J’aime beaucoup relire. Je relis Borjes souvent, Marguerite Yourcenar très souvent, Michel Tournier encore plus souvent. Je suis un grand relecteur. Je lis lentement les nouveautés. Rarement d’ailleurs les nouveautés. Mais je relis énormément les classiques. Ce que j’aime c’est cette liberté de choisir un livre que personne ne m’a commandé, dont personne n’attend de moi une fiche ou un avis. Et je lis parce que ça me permet de me libérer, de sentir de l’apesanteur, de sentir de la récréation, du divertissement, du ludique, de l’allégement, du plaisir. La lecture pour moi c’est un exercice, comme l’écriture d’ailleurs, un exercice fondamentalement ludique. 

L’écriture est la victoire, ou l’illusion d’une victoire de l’ordre sur le désordre. Vous avez confié que l’addiction à l’écriture vous est dictée par une sorte de nécessité, de tension, de rythme. Le plaisir d’une mise en ordre. La lecture est-elle pour vous une expérience du temps, un moyen d’échapper à l’absurdité du monde, l’exercice d’une liberté ? Aussi, pouvez-vous préciser ce côté ludique de la lecture ? Lire, est-ce faire l’expérience de sa liberté, d’engager un dialogue avec les morts ? (Rémi)

C’est une sorte d’intimité partagée. Lire c’est partager l’intimité du monde, c’est à dire saisir l’intimité de quelqu’un que je n’ai jamais croisé, qu’il s’appelle Dostoievski ou Nabokov. Que je n’ai jamais connu, que je n’aurai jamais l’occasion de connaître. Pourtant je suis dans une sorte de partage intime absolu. Ça c’est la première des choses.

La deuxième c’est que j’ai une sorte d’intolérance au temps qui passe et la lecture me permet justement d’avoir cette illusion d’échapper au temps, à cette mécanique du temps. Un des premiers romans qui m’avait fasciné c’était La machine à explorer le temps, bien entendu. Le paradoxe du temps est incroyable. La lecture permet cette illusion de suspendre le temps, de vivre une autre vie. Nous n’avons pas l’occasion de beaucoup voyager, comme vous le faites, pour des problèmes de visa, d’économie, d’argent, etc. Lire c’est être partout quand on le veut et c’est quelque chose de fondamental. C’est aussi ce côté ludique qui est intéressant, c’est d’être allongé, de se désincarner par l’alphabet, et de pouvoir voyager. Imaginez, j’habitais un petit village où on n’avait pas beaucoup l’occasion ni de bouger, ni d’aller plus loin que quinze kilomètres et d’un coup je lis sur les îles, je relis Jules Verne, les voyages vers l’espace. J’étais un amateur incroyable, inconditionnel de la science-fiction. Tout cela m’a apporté la désincarnation, l’apesanteur et le sentiment de vivre plusieurs vies. Peut-être que la réincarnation existe : il suffit d’ouvrir les livres.

On peut constater dans votre œuvre et dans vos interventions un certain optimisme quand vous évoquez le futur des sociétés du monde arabe. Quels sont les éléments qui vous laissent penser qu’une évolution des conditions de vie et des mentalités est possible malgré le verrouillage du système politique qui s’est déjà accaparé les médias, l’éducation, et la religion notamment. (Mehdi)

Je fais plus confiance à l’Homme qu’à l’histoire. Je pense que d’un point de vue logique, nous avons toutes les raisons de désespérer. Nous avons des économies de rente, une population qui a été repoussée vers l’ignorance, vers la démission, vers la croyance plutôt que la citoyenneté. Nous avons des élites qui ne sont pas autonomes, donc qui n’ont pas les moyens d’agir sur le réel, qui ont perdu leur légitimité, qui sont parties, ou qui sont impuissantes en restant sur place. Donc il y a autant de raisons de désespérer. Mais d’un autre côté, je ne suis pas d’un naturel optimiste par raison, mais par colère, par sentiment de dignité. Je me dis, puisque je suis vivant, plutôt être vaincu à la fin qu’au début. Si je suis vaincu au début, qu’est-ce que je vais faire des années qui me restent ? Autant continuer. J’ai des enfants, et j’espère mériter, dans leur mémoire, l’idée que je me suis un peu battu, que j’ai défendu l’idée de liberté et de dignité. Je ne dis pas qu’on va forcément réussir. Mais, vous savez, je suis un grand lecteur d’histoires. Et lorsque je lis des romans fabuleux comme L’œuvre au noir de Yourcenar, je me dis que nous sommes dans ces époques médianes, qui sont douloureuses, mystérieuses, énigmatiques, injustes et inquisitoires, mais qui sont les prémices d’une société qui va venir, peut-être pas prochainement – à l’échelle d’une vie, on désespère –, mais dans un siècle ou deux. Il faut y croire, peut-être que c’est une manière de ne pas mourir absolument et bêtement.

Pour terminer, au-delà de votre statut d’écrivain, vous n’hésitez pas à intervenir régulièrement dans l’espace public. Est-ce que vous pensez aujourd’hui qu’il faut renouer avec la figure de l’intellectuel engagé ?

Est-ce qu’on peut se désengager ? Je ne crois pas. Moi j’aurais voulu avoir beaucoup de livres, vivre dans un pays stable, avoir des jardins à côté de moi, être riche pour ne pas penser à l’argent. Je ne me serais alors jamais engagé. Comme disait quelqu’un, il faut avoir un pays pour avoir une maison, donc j’aurais voulu avoir une maison avant, mais il faut un pays tout autour. On ne peut pas se désengager. Renouer avec la figure de l’intellectuel engagé… Il ne s’agit pas de renouer car cela nous est imposé. Si j’étais un écrivain russe à l’époque du bloc communiste, et que j’avais ma liberté, j’aurais écrit des livres. Mais quelqu’un comme Soljenitsyne ou d’autres sont attaqués dans leur liberté d’écrire et de lire, donc ils se retrouvent à défendre l’idée de liberté, et sont donc engagés malgré eux. On ne s’engage pas parce qu’on en a envie. On s’engage car cela est inévitable. Qui parle de l’avenir maintenant ? Les populistes. Qui promet le salut et la réponse ? Les populistes. Qui se donnent le droit de discourir sur le statut de la femme, la procréation, l’avortement, la migration, le rapport à l’autre, l’altérité ? Les populistes. Nous avons peut-être besoin de récupérer ce droit à la parole que les populistes maintenant ont pu récupérer à leur avantage.

propos recueillis par Mehdi Berrada et Rémi Perrichon

An interview with Daron Acemoglu on artificial intelligence, institutions, and the future of work

The recipient of the 2018 Jean-Jacques Laffont prize, Daron Acemoglu, is the Elizabeth and James Killian Professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Turkish-American economist has been extensively published for his research on political economy, development, and labour economics, and has won multiple awards for his two books, Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy (2006) and Why Nations Fail (2012), which he co-authored with James A. Robinson from the University of Chicago.

The Jean-Jacques Laffont prize is the latest addition to the well-deserved recognition the economist has received for his work, which includes the John Bates Clark Medal from the American Economic Association in 2005 and the BBVA Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Economics in 2017. Despite a schedule heavy with seminars and conferences, Daron kindly set aside some time to offer the TSEconomist his insights on topics ranging from the impact of artificial intelligence for our societies to the role an academic ought to take in public political affairs.

_DSC0724

  1. Congratulations on winning the Jean-Jacques Laffont prize. What does this prize represent to you?

I’m incredibly honoured. Jean-Jacques Laffont was a pioneer economist in both theory and applications of theory to major economic problems. I think this tradition is really important for the relevance of economics and of its flourishing over the last two decades or so. I think it’s a fantastic way of honouring his influence, and I feel very privileged to have been chosen for it.

  1. Thanks to you and other scholars working on economics and institutions, we now know that the way institutions regulate economic life and create incentives are of great importance for the development of a nation. New players such as Google now possess both the technology and the data needed to efficiently solve the optimisation problems institutions face. This raises the debate on government access, purchase, and use of this data, especially in terms of efficiency versus possible harms to democracy due to the centralisation of political power. What is your take on this?

I think you are raising several difficult and important issues. Let me break them into two parts.

One is about whether the advances in technology, including AI and computational power, will change the trade-off between different political regimes. I think the jury’s out and we do not know the answer to that, but my sense would be that it would not change it as much as it changes the feasibility of different regimes to survive even if they are not optimal. What I mean is that you can start thinking about the problem of what was wrong with the Soviet Union in the same way that Hayek did. There are problems to be solved and they’re just too complex, the government can’t handle it and let’s hope that the market solves it.

Then, if you think about it that way, you may say that the government is getting better at solving it, so perhaps we can have a more successful Soviet Union. I think that this is wrong for two reasons that highlight why Hayek’s way of thinking was limited, despite being revolutionary and innovative. One reason is that the problem is not static, but dynamic, so the new algorithms and capabilities create as many new problems that we don’t even know how to articulate. It is therefore naive to think that in such a changing world, we can delegate decision-making to an algorithm and hope that it will do better than the decentralised workings of individuals in groups, markets, communities, and so on.

The second reason is that Hayek’s analysis did not sufficiently emphasise a point that I think he was aware of and stressed in other settings: it is not just about the capabilities of the governments, but about their incentives. It is not simply that governments and rulers cannot do the right thing, but that they do not have the incentives to do so. Even if they wanted to do the right thing, they do not have the trust of the people and thus cannot get the information and implement it. For that reason, I don’t think that the trade-offs between dictatorship and democracy, or market planning versus some sort of market economy, is majorly affected by new technology.

On the other hand, we know that the equilibrium feasibility of a dictatorship may be affected. The ability to control information, the Internet, social media, and other things, may eventually give much greater repressive capability to dictatorships. Most of the fruitful applications of AI are in the future and to be seen, the exception being surveillance, which is already present and will only expand in the next ten years, in China and other countries. This will have major effects on how countries are organised, even if it may not be optimal for them to be organised that way.

To answer the second part of your question, I think that Google is not only expanding technology, but also posing new problems, because we are not used to companies being as large and dominant as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, or Amazon are. Think of when people were up in arms about the power of companies, robber barons, at the beginning of the 20th century, leading to the whole progressive sequence of precedents being reformed, antitrust and other political reforms: as a fraction of GDP, those companies were about one quarter as big as the ones we have today. I therefore think that the modern field of industrial organisation is doing us a huge disfavour by not updating its way of thinking about antitrust and market dominance, with huge effects on the legal framework, among other things. I don’t know the answers, but I know that the answers don’t lie in thinking about something like “Herfindalh is not a good measure of competition so therefore we might have Google dominate everything, but perhaps we are ok” – I think that this is not a particularly good way of going about things.

  1. Some fear that the dominance of these companies could lead to the growth of inequality. Do you think that AI could play a role in this?

I am convinced that automation in general has already played a major role in the rise of inequality, such as changes in wage structure and employment patterns. Industrial robots are part of that, as well as numerically controlled machinery and other automation technologies. Software has been a contributing factor, but probably not the driver in the same sense that people initially thought about it. Projecting from that, one might think that AI will play a similar role, and I think that this is not a crazy projection, although I don’t have much confidence that we can predict what AI will do. The reason is that industrial robotics is a complex but narrow technology. It uses software and even increasingly artificial intelligence, but it isn’t rocket science. The main challenge is developing robots that can interact with and manipulate the physical world.

AI is a much broader technological platform. You can use it in healthcare and education in very different ways than in voice, speech, and image recognition. Therefore, it is not clear how AI will develop and which applications will be more important, and that’s actually one of the places where I worry about the dominance of companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook: they are actually shaping how AI is developing. Their business model and their priorities may be pushing AI to develop in ways that are not advantageous for society and certainly for creating jobs and demand for labour.

We are very much at the beginning of the process of AI and we definitely have to be alert to the possibility that AI will have potentially destructive effects on the labour market. However, I don’t think that it is a foregone conclusion, and I actually believe there are ways of using AI that will be more conducive to higher wages and higher employment.

  1. Regarding the potential polarisation between high and low-skilled labour, do you think that the government could address this issue with universal basic income?

There is a danger – not a certainty, but a danger – that it will polarise, and that even if we use AI in a way that simplifies certain tasks, it may still require some numeracy and some social skills that not all workers have, resulting in probable inequality and displacement effects.

That being said, I believe that universal basic income is a bad idea, because it is not solving the right problem. If the problem is one of redistribution, we have much better tools to address it. Hence, progressive income taxation coupled with something like earned tax credits or negative taxation at the bottom would be much better for redistributing wealth, without wasting resources on people who don’t need to get the transfer. Universal basic income is extremely blunt and wasteful, because it gives many transfers to people who shouldn’t get them, whereas taxation can do much better.

On the one side, I fear that a lot of people who support universal basic income are coming from the part of the spectrum which includes many libertarian ideas on reducing transfers, and I would worry that universal basic income would actually reduce transfers and misdirect them. On the other side, they may be coming from the extreme left, which doesn’t take the budget constraints into account, and again, some of the objectives of redistributing could be achieved more efficiently with tools like progressive income taxation.

Even more importantly, there is another central problem that basic income not only fails to deal with, but actually worsens: I think a society which doesn’t generate employment for people would be a very sad society and will have lots of political and social problems. This fantasy of people not working and having a good living standard is not a good fantasy. Whatever policy we should use should be one that encourages people to obtain a job, and universal basic income will discourage people to do so, as opposed to tax credits on earned income, for example.

  1. In a scenario of individuals being substituted and less people working, how could governments obtain the revenue they are not getting from income taxation? Could taxing robots be a possibility?

I think that this is a bad way of approaching the problem, because when you look at labour income, there is certainly enough to have more redistributive taxation, and no certain need to tax robots. However, we should also think about capital income taxation more generally: there may be reasons for taxing robots, but that has to be related more to the production efficiency and excessive automation. I think that singling out robots, as a revenue source distinct from other capital stock, would be a bad idea. If, for example, you want taxes to raise revenue, then land taxes will be a much better option than robot taxes – this does not mean that we should dismiss the idea of taxing robots. I think that this is confusing because there are efficiency reasons (giving the right incentives to firms) and revenue-raising reasons for taxing. Moreover, because of Bill Gates and other people, public discussions are not helping this confusion.

In terms of sharing wealth, I think that robots do not create new problems compared to other forms of capital. I think it was a confusion of Marx to think of marginal product of capital in very complex ways – that everything that goes to capital is somehow theft – and if neoclassical economics have one contribution, it is to clarify that.  I personally believe there are legitimate reasons for thinking that there is excessive automation. And if there is excessive automation, there are Pigouvian reasons for taxing robots, or actually removing subsidies to robots, which there are many. But that is the discussion we need to have.

  1. There has recently been optimism in regards to the future to AI and the role it could have, for example, on detecting corruption or improving education. You have made the distinction between replacing and enabling technologies. Where does one draw the line between the two?

That is a great question. In reality of course, automation and replacing technologies merge with technology that improve productivity. A great example would be computer-assisted design. Literally interpreted, that would be a labour augmenting technology, because it makes the workers who are working in design more productive. At the same time, however, it may have the same features as automation technology, because with computer-assisted design, some part of the tasks that a drawer would do would be automated. If you do it once, you can do it repeatedly.

So that is a grey area, but it’s okay because the conceptually important point to recognise is that different types of technologies have very different effects. Recognising this is an antidote against the argument that improving productivity through technology will always benefit labour; we actually need to think about what new technologies do and how the increase in productivity will affect labour.

But it is also very important for the discussion regarding AI to point out that AI, as opposed to industrial robot automation, is not necessarily – and does not have to be – labour replacing.  There are ways in which you can use it to create new tasks for labour or increase productivity. This is what I think will play out in real time in the future of AI.

  1. In 2017, you wrote an article for Foreign Policy, “We are the last defence against Trump”, which questioned the belief that institutions are strong enough to prevent a man like Donald Trump to overlook the rule of law. According to you, should economists come off the fence on current affairs? Is it possible to express an opinion without sacrificing some of the intellectual rigour one can expect from a researcher?

I think so. First, there are important personal responsibilities that are crosscutting. Secondly, there is a danger of having the perfect be the enemy of the good.

On the first one, I think that people have to make their own choices as to what is acceptable and what is not. Some things are just within the realm of “I prefer high taxes, you prefer low taxes”, and that is quite a reasonable thing. But some other issues may be a real threat to democracy, to other aspects of institutions, and to minorities that are disempowered. From there, it is important to recognise that there are some lines that should not be crossed, or if they are crossed, that some people need to defend them vocally. Any analogy to the Nazi period is fraud with danger, but it bears saying that, of course, in hindsight, every academic should have walked out of the universities that were managed by Nazis, that were firing Jewish scholars, or were teaching jurisprudence according to the national socialism. That has nothing to do with whether you have evidence of one versus or another – I think that there are some lines.  Similarly, and without saying anything as provocative as drawing parallels between Trump and the Nazis, I think that it is important for people, in general, to defend democracy against the onslaught that it is receiving from Trump’s administration and the circles of people around him. I think I will say openly to everybody that it is wrong for any economist or academic to go and work for Trump, and I think I would certainly never consider doing so, and would consider distancing myself from anybody who does.

But that is on the private ground. On the social science side, there is a lot we do not know. Everything we know is subject to standard errors and external validity constraints, but to refuse to act or to condemn would be to have the perfect be the enemy of the good. On the basis of what we know, we know how democracies fail, we know how certain aspects of American institutions are actually weaker than what people think, and we know how changes in policies against minorities would have terrible effects for certain groups. I think that on the basis of that, to articulate criticism of certain policies and certain politicians is also a good use of the knowledge we have accumulated.

by Valérie Furio, Gökçe Gökkoca, Konrad Lucke, Paula Navarro, and Rémi Perrichon

Interview with Cani Fernandez and Jorge Padilla

Cani Fernandez is a partner in Cuatrecasas, a law firm, where she heads the EU and Competition Law groups and the Brussels office. She advises leading Spanish and international companies on Spanish and EU competition law matters, including merger control and antitrust matters. She also advises companies, governments and EU Institutions on wider EU law issues, and has extensive experience litigating before the General Court of the EU and the European Court of Justice. Cani has also been named as one of top lawyers in Spain by several publications over the last few years.

Jorge Padilla is Senior Managing Director and Head of Compass Lexecon Europe. He has given expert testimony before the competition authorities and courts of several EU member states, as well as in cases before the European Commission and the Community Courts. He has also given expert testimony in various civil litigation (damages) and international arbitration cases. Dr Padilla has written numerous papers on competition policy and industrial organization in the Antitrust Law Journal, the Economic Journal, the Journal of Law and Economics and the Rand Journal of Economics. He co-authored The Law and Economics of Article 102 TFEU, a book often cited in legal briefs and judgments. He is married to Cani Fernandez.

They were kind enough to grant us an interview, allowing us to benefit from their legal and economic points of view with regards to antitrust and related issues.

1. Cani, what is the main constraint when dealing with economists and consultants? Jorge, when dealing with (competition) lawyers (including Cani)?

Fernández: For me, working with economists is not an obligation, it is a necessity. Not every competition lawyer is aware of that, but in a field like ours if you don’t work with economists you only get half of the picture. So working with economists in competition law cases is a must. Having said so, the main constraint lawyers face when working with economists is that we speak different languages, even if we have a common objective. I really like when economists take that language barrier into account and help me to understand in plain words what they want to transmit.

Working with economists has also allowed me to understand the economic implications of competition law; something that I grasped only intuitively, and I know I have been able to do a better job as a lawyer because there are economists on my side helping me to understand the concerns of the competition authority from another perspective. The legal concepts I deal with everyday are based on economic principles, so because of my close interaction with economists I now have a better understanding of how to allay the concerns of the competition authorities.

Finally, from a personal perspective, interacting with an economist on a daily basis has opened my mind to a different way of understanding human behaviour and social phenomena and that is valuable as well.

Padilla: There is of course a language barrier that causes misunderstandings and which limits the importance of economics in legal disputes, including on competition policy matters. But I believe the main source of friction in actual cases is that they play – and should play – a different role. They are advocates: their role, their mandate, and their responsibility is to do whatever is best for their clients. We are not advocates. We are, or should be, independent experts and therefore we are constrained by economic theory and evidence in what we can argue. Of course, economists want to help their clients as well but there are clear limits for us that don’t bind lawyers. Because we are not advocates but independent experts, we have to speak to what the data tells us and limit our arguments to what is consistent with economic theory. We can try to develop the best possible arguments for our clients, so as to help the lawyer advance his or her case, but always within the limits of economics.

Not everybody respects those limits unfortunately. But many economists do and that naturally creates tensions because the client and the lawyer – acting as the advocate of the client – want the economists to say whatever is needed so they get off the hook. The economist may not be able to please them because their proposed arguments are fundamentally inconsistent with the principles of economics or the existing evidence, and that obviously creates tensions.

Some lawyers do understand that tension. They understand that if they force the economist to cross the line and become an advocate, it may be detrimental to the client in the end. So they become the allies of the economist vis-à-vis the client. They intermediate between the client and the economist. Some other lawyers don’t understand that tension and are more focused on the short term. They demand the economist to act as a 100% advocate. Those lawyers do not want independent experts but hired guns. Unfortunately, they are not the exception and, regrettably, some economists are willing to play that game.

Coming back to the issue of language barriers, the problem is not just that we speak different jargons. The true difficulty is that economists rely heavily on mathematics. That’s the real issue, mathematics is the big divide. Many people study law because they don’t want to study mathematics – that’s not the only motivation of course, perhaps not the most important one – but for many people it’s important. Nowadays, those lawyers who thought had escaped from maths find themselves doing antitrust law and they have to co-exist with a bunch of nerds who write with Greek letters and make constant reference to the margin. That is a shock! Many of them prefer to live in a state of denial. They reject economics because they cannot understand a formal argument. This is a problem that as economists we need to address. As Cani just mentioned, competition law practice is now embedding economic evidence in a way that is unstoppable. So we need to help those in the legal profession for which this is a drama.

Fernández: Things are indeed changing in the legal profession. For example, in my Cuatrecasas team, we are only hiring lawyers who are knowledgeable in economics as well. The reason is simply that we really need to interact with economists seamlessly. More and more young lawyers have studies dual degrees in law and economics. I expect this to be the norm in the future, at least among those practicing antitrust law.

2. How important is it to understand the historical background when dealing with European institutions?

Padilla: Well, it is absolutely impossible to deal with somebody if you don’t know where that somebody comes from. Unless you understand the historical background, you may get into debates with EU officials that are completely out of context and develop presumptions about how they will react to your arguments that are completely misplaced and unjustified. That will negatively impact on your chances of getting your story though and risks wasting your time and that of your interlocutors at the EU institutions.

In a case, when defending a position, you have a limited number of shots because there is a process and, unlike in our daily interactions in which you can come back to a point or argument once and again, there are only a limited number of opportunities to advance your arguments. Because of these limitations, it is important to understand what the other person thinks.

This is not true just in antitrust law or more broadly in litigation. It is a more general principle. What matters is not what you say, it’s what the others hear, what they believe you meant. And their beliefs are conditioned by the history of their institutions, their own personal backgrounds, the sort of debates that they have had before. If you are unaware of what has happened before, of the historical background of the institution, you may believe your arguments are extremely convincing, but what they are hearing is completely different and unpersuasive.

Fernández: I agree and I would add that everything has to be put into context. If you consider the latest judgements of the European Court of Justice, you will see how the judges make efforts to put their rulings into a historical and institutional context.

The same happens with what we do with our clients, we have to provide them with the best advice and in order to do so we really need to understand not only where they are coming from or the essential elements for the understanding of the matter at hand, but also the result that you have to provide.

I’ve been defending clients before the ECJ and the General Court for many years. If you don’t know very well the background of the case and you don’t understand very well every single element that may be relevant, including how your case relates to cases considered by the courts in the past, you are going to have a very tough time before the Court. While you are given 15 minutes to plead your case, questions from the court can last hours and during those long hours, every single small detail that is relevant for the case is going to be discussed. You have to really be very aware of the whole context to understand what motivates the judges’ questions and how you should answer them to help them make the right decision.

3. There is currently a lively debate in the competition community about the effects of mergers on innovation. Could you tell us a bit about this debate?

Fernández: For me, the issue is very simple, innovation is another element that we have to take into account when investigating mergers in sectors like the pharmaceutical industry, in which the merging parties may have overlapping pipeline products or research and development projects that are duplicative. The impact of mergers on innovation is becoming a hot issue because the European Commission seems to have developed a new theory of harm in the Dow/Dupont merger. I am waiting to see whether the theory of harm in that case will be confirmed in other cases. At this stage I simply do not know yet, whether Dow/Dupont is a standalone case. I know economists are debating that theory of harm. I will follow that debate with interest to see whether a consensus position emerges. If so, I will be better able to advise my clients in future transactions.

Padilla: On the one hand, I find it surprising that so many companies, law firms and economic consultancies complain about the Commission’s analysis of the effects on innovation of the merger between Dow and Dupont. Many of those same companies, law firms and economic consultancies have been arguing for years and years that the Commission was focusing exclusively on static issues, on pricing issues, and ignoring dynamic concerns and efficiencies when reviewing mergers.

Well, innovation is at the core of the dynamics of an industry and so it is only reasonable that the Commission focuses on innovation. So I don’t think there is any reason to be alarmed or particularly concerned, or to develop conspiracy theories of one sort or the other to explain what happened in Dow/Dupont. What we have witnessed in Dow/Dupont, as well as in GE/Alstom and several other recent cases, is the natural evolution of the analysis of the Commission that moves from simpler concerns to more sophisticated ones, among other things, because our industries are becoming more sophisticated and the companies that are merging now not only compete in prices, but fundamentally compete on innovation.

A separate issue is whether the economic theory and evidence that underpins the Dow/Dupont decision is as robust as it has been presented by some members of the Chief Economist Team (CET). In my opinion, it is not very robust. I think that what the CET has done is identify a number of anticompetitive effects that may have been relevant in Dow/Dupont (I wasn’t involved in that case), but may not be relevant in other mergers where innovation is central.

I also believe that their theoretical work, while useful, is incomplete. What we need to do as economists is to look at the issue, analyse different models, see if there are additional effects that need to be taken into account when assessing the innovation impact of horizontal mergers, and start developing a road-map for empirical analysis. Ultimately what we need to do as theorists is to identify many different effects so that empirical economists can ascertain which effects matter most in which circumstances. It is a fascinating research agenda for a number of years. I can see people working on this issue for several years. In the end, we will have a better understanding and more robust results.

I welcome the initiative of the CET. Innovation is key and the impact of mergers on innovation was not well understood, but I believe that their work is just the beginning of a research quest and that we all have to be a little more cautious and not pretend that we have a fully-fledged understanding of the issue because we don’t. You are going to see many new economics papers on this issue in the next months and years. They will qualify the CET results and will clarify when mergers are bad for innovation.

4. What do you think about big tech companies buying smaller innovative companies? Do we have the tools to control mergers like these?

Fernández: For me it’s rather clear that we haven’t been able to grasp what was really at stake in mergers such as Google/DoubleClick, Facebook/Whatsapp, Microsoft/LinkedIn or Microsoft/Skype. Because merger control only concerns transactions where the parties have a relatively large turnover, and mergers are only conditioned when the parties have large market shares measured in value terms, the real impact of those mergers on the markets affected by those deals was not properly assessed.

I am afraid that we may not be sufficiently well equipped to deal with those deals with our existing tools. I feel that, as a result, we may need to regulate industries that have become less competitive due to horizontal and vertical concentrations that fell below the radar screen, but I still don’t know how, whether it should be done using privacy law, consumer protection laws or any other form of sectorial regulation.

Germany has been trying to apply antitrust law to control Facebook. This is highly controversial. It is an initiative to be followed and studied, but I believe that competition laws may prove insufficient and we will need to complement them with other forms of regulation.

Padilla: Companies such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple are all fantastic companies. They are delivering great services. They are very innovative and have done lots of good things to all of us. Google helps us navigate the web in ways that were clearly impossible many years ago. Facebook has revolutionised the way we use the Internet.

At the same time, we have to be aware that in some of the markets where these companies operate, market power has increased significantly. Some of them are taking advantage of economies of scale and scope, network effects and so on. They are really achieving degrees of market power that are very significant and this could be problematic, not only because they may no longer feel the competitive pressure of some rivals, but also because they’re extending their businesses to adjacent markets, leveraging competitive advantages that are based on their dominance.

Market power is not a problem in itself but it is something to be watched carefully. There are many allegations of abuse by these companies. We need to look at them and investigate them. But we also need to consider whether antitrust is the right tool to deal with them, or we need to start thinking about the possibility of regulation. While the fact that they have been tremendously innovative buys them a lot of credit, it does not give them carte blanche to do whatever they want in the future. We cannot wait until economic theory and empirical evidence are completely developed to see whether we need to intervene. We didn’t wait to have the book of regulation by Laffont and Tirole to start regulating utilities. That of course means that we will make mistakes on the way and that we will have to refine the way in which we intervene in these markets. But I think that given the amount of market power that has been achieved in those markets we cannot stand idle. We need to look carefully to see whether we need to intervene and how, and in parallel we need to develop a better understanding of those markets to refine those regulations and adapt them to the times.

5. How do you see the future of competition law and economics?

Padilla: We need to advance our understanding of markets and strategies. After the gilded age of IO research that culminated with the publication in 1988 of Jean Tirole’s book titled The Theory of Industrial Organisation, and with a few exceptions, most IO work didn’t add much to our understanding of competition. This is changing now, in part due to the emergence of new business models that require understanding, and in part because we deal with lawyers working on difficult cases who approach IO theorists to understand what is going on. This has led to fundamental developments in the theory of multi-sided markets, for example. This makes IO a little bit more similar to labour economics or other fields where economists move from facts to theory. For too long IO was driven by abstract theoretical concerns.

Fernández: Competition law will continue to evolve. There are gaps to close, as I mentioned when responding to your previous questions. But our statutes are sufficiently flexible to provide a useful framework to assess the competitive implications of new company strategies, even in emerging markets. The statutes may not change but the way in which they are enforced will change. We observe change even in areas like the enforcement of Article 102, where we have been stuck with formalistic concepts for over 40 years. The gap between the formalistic way in which the statute was applied and the reality it is meant to regulate is slowly being addressed… Or so I hope!

by Tristan Salmon and Arthur Hill

With thanks to Alexandre de Cornière, Marc Ivaldi, Doh-Shin Jeon, and Yassine Lefouili for their question suggestions.

Internship Report: ACTeon Environment

anniem2internship.jpg
Annie Krautkraemer
  1. Where did you do your internship and what was your role?

I did my internship at ACTeon Environment in Colmar, France. I contributed to a research project regarding aquatic biodiversity in the European Union called AQUACROSS. Within AQUACROSS, there were eight different case studies in different geographical regions that are facing threats to biodiversity. I worked on the Danube River case study, whose main threat to biodiversity is hydromorphological alterations to the river, or put simply, changes made to the shape of the river (hydroelectric dams, dykes, etc.) These changes impact how the river is connected to wetlands, which consequently affects the ecosystem services that these water bodies provide, such as water filtration and flood prevention. ACTeon was responsible for conducting the efficiency analysis of ecosystem-based management policies aimed at preserving aquatic biodiversity, and I contributed to this analysis.

  1. How did your studies at TSE help you during the internship?

The courses in ERNA were helpful because we learned about environmental valuation and cost-benefit analysis, both of which were pertinent to the project I worked on. Environmental valuation was useful because we learned about different techniques to value non-market goods like ecosystem services, and about their advantages and drawbacks. To carry out an efficiency analysis of the policy, we will conduct a cost-benefit or cost-effectiveness analysis, depending on what information is available, so it was very useful to have a course on cost-benefit analysis.

  1. How did you get the internship? What would be your advice for students looking for a similar internship?

I had seen an internship offer from ACTeon on the alumni network site, and then went to their website and found a couple more offers, including one in English that interested me. I applied by sending a CV and cover letter, and then had a Skype interview. I would recommend checking out ACTeon’s website around December or January to see what internships they are offering. Another tip I have is to use the alumni network to see where other people are already working: For example, those interested in environmental economics can use the directory to see where past ERNA alumni are working, if they have updated their profiles.

by Annie Krautkraemer