Faculty Voices
01 December 2018

A Great Place to Intellectually Grow

By Charles Wyplosz, Honorary Professor of International Economics



Our professors share their thoughts and opinions on their own experience of teaching at the Institute.

I have just retired from the Institute where I have spent more than two happy decades, during which the Institute has reinvented itself. From a small school with some great scholars and a stellar history, it has become an important node in the world of international relations.

I joined the Institute in 1995 because it then housed a few macroeconomists of great talent and because it offered many advantages. It was small and congenial, it attracted great students who were more interested in policy issues than in mathematical prowess, and it offered nice working conditions, including a moderate and flexible teaching load and easy access to resources such as data, research assistants and funding through the Swiss research foundation. The downside was that I would be away from Paris and from policy debates in France, my own country. Being a member of the CEPR (Centre for Economic Policy Research) network of excellent economists, I was not worried about losing touch with the profession at large. Willy-nilly, I became more European, more international, and I found myself more easily thinking out of the box of conventional wisdom. The flexibility of the Institute allowed me to travel the world and to advise governments – like the first post-Soviet government in Russia – and international organisations, a great source of inspiration for research and teaching.

Being small, the Institute could not cover the whole gamut of graduate training and research in economics at top level. It wisely chose to focus on international issues. Crucially, the Department of International Economics decided not to compete for students who intended to pursue high-level academic careers, focusing instead on preparing them for positions in international organisations or national institutions like central banks and finance ministries. This perfectly aligned with my research and teaching interests, a source of intense satisfaction. It naturally led me to produce two textbooks, one on macroeconomics with my former INSEAD colleague Michael Burda and one on European economics with my Institute colleague Richard Baldwin. More importantly, it allowed me to “produce” students that have moved on to highly successful careers in places like the IMF and central banks, another source of intense satisfaction.

Early on, Jean-Pierre Roth asked me to succeed Hans Genberg as Director of the International Center for Monetary and Banking Studies (ICMB) that Alexandre Swoboda had created. Bringing together academics, policymakers and practitioners is now commonly practiced but it was not at all the case at the time. This allowed me to invite to Geneva top people, many of whom would eventually lead the world.[1] The Geneva community recognised the value of these encounters and allowed me to convene an annual conference that produced the Geneva Reports on the World Economy, many of which have become quite influential.

My decision to join the Institute has changed my life in every dimension. I still marvel at how lucky I have been. Of course, the years have caught up with me and I have to move on. But my passion for economics, and what it can do to better people’s lives, remains undimmed, so I am not really retiring. My formal professional status is changing but I very much hope to be able to continue reading, writing and attending conferences around the world. I have so many projects in my head.

[1] Among them, Ben Bernanke, Jean-Claude Trichet, Mario Draghi, Larry Summers, Philipp Hildebrand, Mark Carney.

This article originally appeared in Globe No. 22, Autumn 2018.