Edmund Phelps

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Edmund Phelps
Friendship Award
, 2014
Academic background
ThesisA test for the presence of cost inflation in the united states economy, 1955-1957 (1959)

Edmund Strother Phelps (born July 26, 1933) is an American economist and the recipient of the 2006 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.

Early in his career, he became known for his research at

golden rule savings rate, a concept related to work by John von Neumann, started a wave of research on how much a nation should spend on present consumption rather than save and invest for future generations

Phelps was at the

microfoundation, one featuring imperfect information, incomplete knowledge and expectations about wages and prices, to support a macroeconomic theory of employment determination and price-wage dynamics. That led to his development of the natural rate of unemployment
: its existence and the mechanism governing its size. In the early 2000s, he turned to the study of business innovation.

He is the founding director, since 2001, of Columbia's Center on Capitalism and Society. He was McVickar Professor of Political Economy at Columbia from 1982 to 2021. On January 1, 2022, his title changed to McVickar Professor Emeritus of Political Economy.

Early life and education

Phelps was born on July 26, 1933, in Evanston, Illinois, and he moved with his family to Hastings-on-Hudson, New York when he was six, where he spent his school years.[1] In 1951, he went to Amherst College for his undergraduate education. At his father's advice, Phelps enrolled in his first economics course in his second year at Amherst. Economist James Nelson gave the course, which was based on the famous textbook Economics by Paul Samuelson. Phelps was strongly impressed with the possibility of applying formal analysis to business.[citation needed] He quickly became aware of an important unsolved problem with the existing economic theory and the existing gap between microeconomics and macroeconomics.

After receiving his

in Economics from Yale in 1959.

Research in 1960s and 1970s

After receiving his Ph.D., Phelps went to work as an economist for the

neoclassical growth theory, following the seminal work of Robert Solow.[citation needed] As part of his research, in 1961 Phelps published a famous paper[2][3] on the Golden Rule savings rate, one of his major contributions to economic science. He also wrote papers dealing with other areas of economic theory, such as monetary economics or Ricardian equivalence
and its relation to optimal growth.

His position at Cowles gave Phelps the chance to interact with

MIT, where he was in contact with future Nobel Prize winners Paul Samuelson, Robert Solow and Franco Modigliani.[1]

In 1966, Phelps left Yale and moved to the

to take up a tenured position as a professor of economics. At Penn, Phelps's research focused mainly on the link between employment, wage setting and inflation, leading to his influential 1968 paper "Money-Wage Dynamics and Labor Market Equilibrium"[4] and others.[5] The research contributed important insights in the microeconomics of the Phillips curve, including the role of expectations (in the form of adaptive expectations) and imperfect information in the setting of wages and prices.[6] It also introduced the concept of the natural rate of unemployment and argued that labor market equilibrium is independent of the rate of inflation and so there is no long-run tradeoff between unemployment and inflation. That, if accurate, would have the crucial implication that the Keynesian policy of demand management has only transitory effects and so cannot be used to control the long-term rate of unemployment in the economy. In January 1969, Phelps organized a conference at Penn in support of the research on the microfoundations of inflation and employment determination. The conference papers were published the next year in a book[7] that had a strong and lasting influence; it became known as the "Phelps volume".[1][8] Along with his research on the Phillips curve, Phelps also collaborated with other economists on research regarding economic growth, the effects of monetary and fiscal policy, and optimal population growth

In the following years, an element in Phelps's foundations came under heavy criticism with the introduction of

Phelps spent 1969–70 at the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Science at Stanford University. Discussions with fellow Nobel prize winners Amartya Sen and Kenneth Arrow and especially the influence of the philosophy of John Rawls, whom he met during the year at the Center, led Phelps to undertake some research outside macroeconomics. As a result, in 1972, he published seminal research in the new field that he named statistical discrimination.[12] He also published research on economic justice, applying ideas from Rawls's A Theory of Justice.

In 1971, Phelps moved to the Economics Department at

inflation tax and the impact of fiscal policy on optimal inflation. In 1972, Phelps published a new book[13]
which focused on the derivation of policy implications of his new theory. The book further popularized his "expectations-augmented Phillips curve" and introduced the concept of hysteresis with regard to unemployment (prolonged unemployment is partially irreversible as workers lose skill and become demoralized).

In the late 1970s, Phelps and one of his former students,

financial crisis of 2007–2008, along with the failure of rational expectations models to predict it, led to a renewed interest in the work.[1]

Research in 1980s

In 1982, he was appointed the McVickar Professor of Political Economy at Columbia. During the early 1980s, he wrote an introductory textbook synthesizing contemporary economics knowledge. The book, Political Economy, was published in 1985 but had limited classroom adoption.[15]

In the 1980s, Phelps increased collaboration with European universities and institutions, including

Observatoire Français des Conjonctures Économiques (OFCE) in Paris. He became interested in the puzzle of the persistent high unemployment in Europe despite no pause in inflation and published on the subject with Jean-Paul Fitoussi (the director of OFCE).[16] Further study led Phelps to believe that it is not a transitory phenomenon but the effect of changes in equilibrium unemployment.[citation needed] During the following years, Phelps tried to build a theory to determine endogenously the natural rate of unemployment. He published partial research results in a 1994 book, Structural Slumps: The Modern Equilibrium Theory of Employment, Interest and Assets. Phelps also collaborated closely with Luigi Paganetto at the University of Rome Tor Vergata and, between 1988 and 1998, as co-organizers of the Villa Mondragone
International Seminar.

Research in 1990s

In 1990 Phelps took part in a mission from the new

EBRD to Moscow, where he and Kenneth Arrow designed a proposal for the reform of the Soviet Union.[17] After the EBRD was established, he became a member of its Economic Advisory Board, where he stayed until 1993. From his work at EBRD and collaboration with his former student, Roman Frydman, Phelps developed a strong interest in Eastern Europe's transition economies

Over the late 1980s and the early 1990s, Phelps created a new non-monetary theory of employment in which business asset values drive the natural rate. The theory, first fully set out in his book Structural Slumps (1994), explains Europe's slump without disinflation in the 1980s: the elevation of the world real rate of interest, declining opportunities for continuing technological catching up and the mushrooming social wealth granted by Europe's emerging welfare state play the main causal roles. Two sequel papers in 2000 and 2001 on the theory of 'structural booms' explained US inflationless expansion in the late 1990s and claimed its transience.[citation needed] His papers develop the thesis that the great economic swings experienced by the West in the past century not only originate in non-monetary shocks but also operate fundamentally by non-monetary mechanisms. This book, as well as subsequent papers, argued that the fluctuation of unemployment rates in the United States, the United Kingdom, and France stemmed from the accumulation of wealth with minimal investment.[18]

In the mid-1990s, his research turned to what he called

economic inclusion
. He published in 1997 a book for the general public, Rewarding Work about the causes and cures of the joblessness and low wages among disadvantaged workers.

Current focus

Phelps's current work is about the benefits and sources of a country's structural dynamism: the enterprise and creativity of entrepreneurs, the skill of financiers in selecting and supporting the best projects, and the knowledge managers draw upon in evaluating and making use of new methods and products.[19] Every dynamic economy has its doldrums and even torpid economies may rise, perhaps with delay, to an extraordinary opportunity. However, great dynamism, he argues, brings advantages in virtually every dimension of economic performance, not just in productivity. For Phelps, the challenges presented in a creative and evolving business sector provide most people with their main vehicle for the exploration, exercise, and development of their talents.[20]

In the already-advanced economies, that is perhaps the best reason that policy must aim to build a business sector of high dynamism and broad inclusion. The research task is to identify the institutions that are pathways to dynamism and the institutions that are obstructions.

Phelps's own research on dynamism began at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in 1990 and 1992–93, where he worked on the theory of capitalism and issues of mass privatization in Eastern Europe. Later in the decade, he turned to studying a range of economic institutions in Western Europe and the United States. He conducted research with a focus on the Italian economy as Senior Advisor to Italy in Europe of the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche from 1997 to 2000.

In 2001, he and Roman Frydman founded the Center on Capitalism & Society at Columbia (now a unit of Arts and Sciences) to promote and conduct research on capitalism.

In 2008, writing in the wake of the Great Recession, Phelps criticized the "false" models of neoclassical economics, but he also wrote with skepticism regarding Keynesian resurgence:[21]

What theory can we use to get us out of the impending slump quickly and reliably? To use the "new classical" theory of fluctuations begun at Chicago in the 1970s – the theory in which the "risk management" models are embedded – is unthinkable, since it is precisely the theory falsified by the asset price collapse. The thoughts of some have turned to John Maynard Keynes. His insights into uncertainty and speculation were deep. Yet his employment theory was problematic and the "Keynesian" policy solutions are questionable at best... At the end of his life, Keynes wrote of "modernist stuff, gone wrong and turned sour and silly". He told his friend Friedrich Hayek he intended to re-examine his theory in his next book. He would have moved on. The admiration we all have for Keynes's fabulous contributions should not sway us from moving on.

Since around 2006, his main research focus has been innovation and economic growth as fueled by the creativity of ordinary people within a nation. His book Mass Flourishing (2013) remarks that cavemen had the ability to imagine new things and the zeal to create them, but a culture liberating and inspiring dynamism is necessary to ignite what Lincoln called a "passion for the new."[22] These theses on the central role of values for indigenous innovation and the good life are tested in the book Dynamism, coauthored with Raicho Bojilov, Hian Teck Hoon and Gylfi Zoega, which was published by Harvard University Press in 2020.

Phelps has severely criticized the economic policy of U.S. president Donald Trump. It feels "like economic policy at a time of fascism [...] The leader controls the economy and tells the companies how things are going to be done."[23]

In June 2020, he and other Nobel laureates in Economics, as well as architects, chefs and leaders of international organizations, signed the International Appeal of 7 June 2020 in favor of the purple economy ("Towards a cultural renaissance of the economy"), published in Corriere della Sera,[24] El País[25] and Le Monde.[26]

Personal life

In 1974 Phelps married Viviana Montdor.[27] Publications have noted that despite his many accomplishments, Phelps does not own a car.[28]

Honors and awards

In 1981 Phelps was elected to become a member of the National Academy of Science in the USA. In 2006, he was awarded the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, referred to, colloquially, as the Nobel Prize in Economics for "his analysis of inter-temporal tradeoffs in macroeconomic policy." In announcing the prize, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said Phelps's work had "deepened our understanding of the relation between short-run and long-run effects of economic policy."[29]

In the year 2000, Phelps was made a Distinguished Fellow of the

Legion of Honor. Four months later he was given the Global Economy Prize of Kiel Institute for the World Economy
. In 2014, he received the Chinese Government's Friendship Award and the Wilbur Lucius Cross Medal from Yale University.

Furthermore, Phelps received honorary degrees from several renowned institutions acknowledging his academic work. In 1985, he was awarded an honorary degree from his alma mater,

Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris (2006), the University of Buenos Aires (2007), Tsinghua University (2007), and the Université libre de Bruxelles (2010).[30] From 2010 to 2016, he served as Dean of New Huadu Business School at Minjiang University in Fuzhou.[31]



  1. ^ . Retrieved August 18, 2008.
  2. ^ "The Golden Rule of Accumulation: a Fable for Growthmen"; The American Economic Review, Vol. 51, No. 4, pp. 638–43, 1961 http://www.policonomics.com/wp-content/uploads/The-Golden-Rule-of-Accumulation-a-Fable-for-Growthmen.pdf[permanent dead link]
  3. ^ "The Golden Rule of Capital Accumulation" (see Bibliography)
  4. ^ "Money-Wage Dynamics and Labor Market Equilibrium" (1968) (see Bibliography)
  5. JSTOR 2552025
  6. ^ "Phillips Curve". The Library of Economics and Liberty. Liberty Fund, Inc. Retrieved February 11, 2019.
  7. ^ Microeconomic Foundations of Employment and Inflation Theory by Phelps et al. (see Bibliography)
  8. ^ The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (2006), "Edmund Phelps's Contributions to Macroeconomics"
  9. ^ "Stabilizing Powers of Monetary Policy under Rational Expectations" (see Bibliography)
  10. .
  11. .
  12. ^ "The Statistical Theory of Racism and Sexism" (see Bibliography)
  13. ^ "Inflation Policy and Unemployment Theory" (see Bibliography)
  14. ^ "Individual Forecasting and Aggregate Outcomes" (see Bibliography)
  15. .
  16. ^ Fitoussi, Jean-Paul and Edmund S. Phelps (1988). The Slump in Europe: Open Economy Theory Reconstructed. Basil Blackwell.
  17. ^ Phelps, Edmund S. and Kenneth J. Arrow (1991). "Proposed Reforms of the Economic System of Information and Decision in the USSR: Commentary and Advice". Rivista di Politica Economica 81
  18. ^ Edmund Phelps Home Page. Columbia University
  19. SSRN 2963105
  20. .
  21. ^ Phelps, Edmund (November 4, 2008). "Keynes had no sure cure for slumps" (PDF). The Financial Times. Columbia University. Retrieved November 26, 2011.
  22. ^ Phelps, Edmund. "Biography". Personal Website. Retrieved January 5, 2022.
  23. ^ "Nobelpreisträger Phelps über Donald Trump: "Wirtschaftspolitik wie im Faschismus"". Spiegel Online. January 27, 2017.
  24. ^ "Per un rinascimento culturale dell'economia". Corriere della Sera (in Italian). June 7, 2020. Retrieved June 22, 2020.
  25. ^ "Por un renacimiento cultural de la economía". El País (in Spanish). June 7, 2020. Retrieved June 22, 2020.
  26. ^ "En dépit de son importance croissante, le culturel n'a pas suffisamment été pensé comme un écosystème". Le Monde (in French). June 7, 2020. Retrieved June 22, 2020.
  27. ^ "Edmund S. Phelps – Autobiography". Nobelprize.org.
  28. ^ Stop Acting Rich and Live Like a Millionaire, Thomas Stanley, 2009, John Wiley & Sons, Kindle location 2885
  29. ^ "Short run – Long run" (Press release). The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. October 9, 2006. Retrieved August 17, 2008.
  30. ^ "Edmund Phelps Home Page".
  31. ^ Phelps, Edmund. "Curriculum Vitae" (PDF). Center on Capitalism and Society. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 22, 2019. Retrieved February 11, 2019.

External links

Nobel Prize
Preceded by
Thomas C. Schelling
Laureate of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics

Succeeded by
Roger B. Myerson