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Stephen Emerson and Joseph Stiglitz awarded the Légion d'Honneur

Stephen Emerson and Joseph Stiglitz awarded the Légion d’Honneur

Published on January 23, 2013
Speech by Ambassador François Delattre

New York, January 18, 2013
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Dear Professor Stiglitz,

Dear Professor Emerson,

Monsieur le Conseiller culturel, Cher Antonin, whom I’d like to warmly thank as well as his team for hosting this important event,

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Ambassador François Delattre and Professor Stephen Emerson

It is a true privilege and it gives me great pleasure to greet you and so many eminent guests tonight.

Indeed, I see so many friends present here this evening:

Ezra Zilkha, Maggie Bult, and Patrick Roux of Air France, with his wife Cécile.

And an impressive delegation from Columbia University: Professor Edmund Phelps, Professor Saaskia Sassen, Professor Bruce Greenwald, Professor Bernard Salanié, Dean Lieberman from SIPA, and Alessia Lefebure, Director of the Alliance Program.

We are gathered here tonight to honor two exceptional academics and contributors to the French-American relationship: Professor Stephen Emerson and Professor Joseph Stiglitz.

In a few minutes, they will be awarded the Légion d’Honneur. As you may know, the Légion d’Honneur was created by Napoléon Bonaparte in 1802, and since then, it has been France’s highest distinction and one of the most coveted in the world. It is bestowed in recognition of “outstanding achievement in the military as well as in the public and private sectors.”

Tonight, both of our recipients are two great leaders with an extraordinary moral compass pointing toward progress and knowledge. Two values shared by our two countries; two values that are at the core of the transatlantic partnership.

If you please, let’s begin with you, Professor Emerson.

***

Dear Professor Emerson,

Let me first acknowledge the presence here tonight of your wife Dr. Jennifer Punt, your daughter Abigail and your brother and sister-in-law Dr. and Mrs. Ronald Emerson and their children Lauren and Sarah.

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Professor Joseph Stiglitz

Professor Emerson, you are a brilliant doctor, a great scientist, a model of moral integrity and a great friend of France.

Please allow me to tell the audience a remarkable story which for me truly exemplifies your character.

Two years ago, a Dutch philosophy scholar from Utrecht University was working on a collection of autographs belonging to the library of Haverford College - where you served as President from 2007 to 2011.

These autographs were donated to Haverford College in 1902 by Lucy Roberts, whose husband – Charles Roberts – was an avid autograph collector.

One of the autographs studied was of exceptional note: it was an original letter from René Descartes, the founding genius of modern philosophy and analytic geometry.

This discovery was an incredible event in many ways.

Firstly, it was a wonderful discovery for science:

In this four-page letter that Descartes wrote in 1641, he explained to his close friend and publisher, Father Marin Mersenne, that he had decided to dramatically change the content of the Méditations Métaphysiques.

Descartes’ modification of this text occurred at a very late stage in the printing process and revealed how affected he was by his contemporary critics and how he tailored his writing to his critics.

Les Méditations Métaphysiques later became one of Descartes’ most famous works and fostered a true revolution in thought and scientific methods.

This discovery was also an important moment for France:

This letter - among thousands of other treasured documents - had been stolen from the Institut de France in the mid-19th century by an Italian mathematician. This event was called “the Great Robbery.” It was a tragic loss for French intellectual life.

Cher Professeur, as soon as you were informed of the letter’s existence, you declared there was only one responsible course of action: to return it to France.

You immediately offered to give the document back to the Institut de France with no concern about what Haverford College might receive in exchange. Coincidentally, the day you contacted Gabriel de Broglie, the chancellor of the Institut de France, was February 11, the very same day of the anniversary of Descartes’ death in 1650…

You even flew to France to personally deliver the document to Mr. de Broglie himself.

We are extremely grateful for this gesture. To return the letter was not an obvious decision. I must say, it was a very noble one as Descartes’ original written letters are very rare and highly solicited.

Today, France has recovered 45 of the 72 Descartes stolen letters, but most of them still remain in private hands.

Thanks to you this artifact of our intellectual history is now available to scholars, scientists and students for the future.

*

Cher Professeur, this story is only one of the many examples of your moral values and sense of leadership.

You have a deep appreciation and innate respect for history, culture, science and national heritage. We admire your belief in research, in learning and your desire to promote cooperation and collaboration in the educational sphere.

You reflect the best of Haverford College, which was founded in 1833 by a group of Quakers who sought to create a learning institution grounded in ethical values.

I would like to pay tribute to Haverford College - an exceptional academic institution - with 3 Nobel Prize recipients among its faculty, one of the most extensive collections of Quaker history in the world and one of the oldest College Honor Codes in the country.

Haverford College has a strong tradition of faculty research and social responsibility in the fields of science and the humanities. It is the ideal model of an American liberal arts college - a model that France deeply admires.

Indeed, American universities have this incredible richness and diversity: they offer a broad academic horizon to their students, give them freedom to explore a wide range of disciplines and build their analytical skills as well as their intellectual base.

*

And Cher Professeur, that is exactly what your brilliant career epitomizes.

In 1974, you graduated from Haverford College with a double major in Philosophy and Chemistry. You then earned an M.D and a Ph.D. in Cell Biology and Immunology from the Yale School of Medicine.

You began your career at the Harvard Medical School, and since then you have thrived as an educator, doctor, scholar and leader of the most important medical research institutions in this country : at the University of Michigan from 1986 to 1990, then at the University of Pennsylvania, until 2007.

The discoveries of your research teams in the field of bone marrow transplantation allowed for new therapies and were adopted everywhere in the world.

You have received many prestigious awards and you now lead one of the most important, if not THE most important cancer research centers in the world. Indeed since February 2012, you have been Director of the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center at New York Presbyterian Hospital and Columbia University Medical Center. And all along your brilliant career you have developed strong ties with your French colleagues.

On a more personal note I belong to a family of oncologists and medical researchers. They all know about you and were quite jealous when they learned I would bestow the Legion of Honor upon you.

You are also co-chairman of the American Society of Hematology and the American Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation.

Under your leadership, researchers and scientists are able to work toward ground-breaking discoveries to better the ills of the 21st century.

Tonight, on behalf of President François Hollande and in recognition of your major contribution to science, higher education, and knowledge, and your commitment to French-American friendship, it is my privilege to bestow upon you the Légion d’Honneur.

Stephen Emerson, au nom du Président de la République, nous vous remettons les insignes de Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur.

Dear Professor Stiglitz, I must say the bestowal of the Légion d’Honneur is always a solemn event but in your case, it is made even more so by who you are and the long list of distinctions in your outstanding career.

So please allow me to go straight to the point and say that it is with great humility that I stand here before you.

I would like to start by acknowledging the presence here tonight of your wife Anya, your daughter Siobhan, your son Michael and your daughter-in-law Randall.

You are, cher Professeur, “a global thinker.”

In recent years, your insights on globalization have been more in demand than ever, and especially in France, where you are as you know a major intellectual reference.

So tonight France honors an eminent intellectual leader, a remarkable researcher, a distinguished professor, and most of all, an exceptional human being.

For it is your great humanity that led you to question the principles of classical economy.

It is your concern for the welfare of fellow human-beings that fed your dissatisfaction with what you call “market fundamentalist policies.”

It is your commitment to a more equitable world that has fuelled your exploration of a “Third way.”

Indeed you brought to economics a new vision, a new way of thinking.

*

Surprisingly enough for one of the most renowned economists of our time, you did not always plan on becoming an economist. And I would even say that you were, to a certain degree, an unlikely candidate to become an economist.

You were born in 1943 in the heartland of industrial America, in Gary, Indiana, where you witnessed first hand poverty, discrimination, and unemployment.

At an early age you began to question economic and social inequalities and your family background was particularly influential.

Your family was politically engaged and you were taught that money was not the important value. What was important, on the contrary, was service to others and the life of the mind.

Initially, you fell in love with the elegance of the mathematical theories that describe the world. From 1960 to 1963, you studied physics at Amherst College – you are therefore living proof of the benefits of an interdisciplinary approach.

It was only during the tumult of the 1960s – when you became involved in the Civil Rights movement and the fight against colonialism - that you realized that economics was much more than the science of money and could address the fundamental causes of inequity.

You used your inclination for mathematics and problem solving to become one of the most brilliant economists of our time.

You were awarded a PhD from MIT in 1966, where your teachers included four subsequent Nobel Laureates: Robert Solow, Franco Modigliani, Kenneth Arrow and Paul Samuelson. Paul Samuelson once said that you were the best economist to come from Gary, Indiana. He too was from Gary!

You also went to Oxford and Yale, where you later became a professor of Economics at the ripe age of… 27.

By then, you had encountered two great influences in your life: Keynes, and Kenya. In your case, the two “ks” are the two keys…

Your concerns about the limitations of theoretical canons deepened during time spent in Nairobi in 1969. And it was through a very practical consideration of Kenyan economic issues that you began your critical reflection on “asymmetries of information” and its role in market phenomena.

*

This became one of the hallmarks of your career as a professional economist.

Your academic appointments include the cream of the crop from Yale to M.I.T., Stanford, Princeton, Oxford and Cambridge, and of course, Columbia.

Cher Professeur, you are not an Ivory Tower economist, but one constantly involved in the world you see “with all its imperfections.”

You have had an equally dazzling career in economic policy making. You were a member, then Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors under President Bill Clinton, and then Vice-President for Development Economics and Chief Economist of the World Bank.

It was in this position that you opposed the “Washington consensus” and the policies advocated then by the IMF, because you believed they almost totally deregulated financial markets.

In 2001 you became Nobel Prize laureate for your foundational contributions to modern economics of information. Your research has transformed the way economists think about the working of markets.

Your work has never remained in abstract books, indeed you constantly seek the connection between theory and policy, as exemplified through your active participation on numerous Commissions and Boards and your own “Initiative for Policy Dialogue.”

Notably, you co-chair the Committee on Global Thought at Columbia, and are also currently chair of the UN’s Commission of Experts on Reforms of the International Monetary and Financial System.

With other distinguished members including Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen, and two former Chief Economists of the World Bank, François Bourguignon and Nicholas Stern, you have chaired the Commission on the measurement of economic performance and social progress set up by France in 2008.

The goal of this commission was to produce indicators of social progress more relevant than simple GDP, integrating the factors of well-being and sustainability. And your work is really a milestone in this field.

I could go on, as your active engagement for the future of the world is also reflected in your participation as lead author in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which won the Nobel Peace Prize, in 2007.

France deeply admires you and is extremely grateful for your contribution to the understanding of the economic evolution in these challenging times. We are also very pleased that a new generation of French students is lucky enough to learn directly from you - since every year you give a lecture to dual degree students from the Master of International Affairs with Sciences Po at Columbia’s School of International Affairs.

*

Last but not least, dear Professor, you are a great and original writer.

Your feeling for the right word and your clarity of expression is unmatched – you make the most complex economic issues clear.

In some of your literary references (“A Modest Proposal” and “Some are more unequal than others”) you reveal your affection for Jonathan Swift and George Orwell: good company indeed. I believe that you match these great writers in strength of argument, rhetoric, and conviction.

In fact, you are most certainly one of the most prominent critics in French intellectual dialogue today. Your books, such as Globalization and Its Discontents and The Roaring Nineties, to name a few, are always broadly acclaimed in our country, both by professional economists and by concerned individuals. For example, your last book The Price of Inequality became a best seller in France as soon as it was published.

Thanks to you, the French-American dialogue is brought to a higher level and our two countries can think and work more closely together, on issues of innovation and globalization. Your constant concern for advancing economic progress together with social justice has made you an invaluable figure in today’s world. So on behalf of President François Hollande, and in recognition of your extraordinary achievements, it is with the gratitude of my country and as a global citizen that I will now present you with the Légion d’Honneur.

Joseph Stiglitz, au nom du Président de la République, nous vous remettons les insignes d’Officier de la Légion d’Honneur.

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