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French Nobel prize winner Maurice Allais dies in Paris

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French Nobel prize winner Maurice Allais dies in Paris

2010-10-11 03:48:55 GMT+7 (ICT)

PARIS (BNO NEWS) -- Nobel economics prize winner Maurice Allais died of natural causes at his home on the outskirts of Paris on Saturday, the French government confirmed on late Sunday evening. He was 99.

Allais was awarded the 1988 Nobel prize in Economic Sciences for his "pioneering contributions to the theory of markets and efficient utilization of resources," according to The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences when the Nobel was awarded to him.

"With the death of Maurice Allais at the age of 99, France has lost one of its most leading economists that the international community honored with the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1988," a statement from the French Presidential office said.

Born in Paris in 1911, Allais grew up with his parents who owned a small cheese shop and his maternal grandfather who was a carpentry worker. "I thus came from what is commonly known as the working class," Allais once wrote in his autobiography.

Allais said his youth was deeply marked by the death of his father, who was called to war in August 1914 and was killed in March 1915 while in captivity in Germany.

"Albeit in often difficult conditions, I was nevertheless able to pursue my secondary studies," Allais wrote. "I received my high school baccalaureate diploma in Latin and Science in 1928, then my two baccalaureate diplomas in Mathematics and Philosophy in 1929. Throughout my college career I was generally first in my year in almost all subjects, including French and Latin as well as Mathematics."

Fascinated by history, Allais wanted to apply to the Ecole des Chartes but instead entered a special mathematics class on insistence of his teacher to prepare himself for the Ecole Polytechnique, which he entered in 1931. "I graduated first in my class in 1933, which is commonly considered to be a "summum" in France," he said. "Indeed, the Ecole Polytechnique, together with the Ecole Normale Superieure, are the top of French education in the sciences."

His choice of a government administration upon graduation was the "Corps National des Mines", simply because each year the top graduates of the Ecole Polytechnique always chose this government service because of the career possibilities it opened up in the country's large industrial enterprises.

"After a year of military service, first in the Artillery School at Fontainebleau and then in the Alpine Army, and two years at the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Mines in Paris, I started as an engineer in the mines public service in October 1936," Allais wrote.

But his professional career began in 1937, at the age of 26. He found himself in charge of the Nantas Mines and Quarries Service, which included five of the 89 French departments, and also put in charge of a number of controls, in particular that of the general and local railway system.

In 1939, Allais was called back to the Alpine Army on the Italian front and was given command of a heavy artillery battery in the area of Briancon. But the real war only lasted two weeks, from June 10, 1940, when Italy declared war on France, until June 25, 1940, the date of the armistice.

Having been released from service, Allais took up his old position in Nantes in July 1940 in the German occupation zone. From October 1943 to April 1948, Allais was the director of the Bureau of Mines Documentation and Statistics in Paris.

During the Second World War, from January 1941 to April 1948, Allais simultaneously carried out his administrative functions and published his first workers. Two fundamental workers were 'A la Reserche d'une Discipline Economique' (In Quest of an Economic Discipline), and 'Economic et Interet' (Economy and Interest). He also published three minor workers and various news articles. "Throughout this period I worked very hard, at least eighty hours per week," Allais said.

Then, in April 1948, Allais was relieved of all his administrative duties and was able to devote all of his time to teaching, research, and writing for publication. "I was professor of Economic Analysis at the "Ecole Nationale Superieure des Mines" from 1944 on, and Director of a research unit at the "Centre de la Recherche Scientifique" (C.N.R.S.) from 1946 on," he said. "At various times I held teaching positions at other institutions, such as the Institute of statistics at the University of Paris (1947-1968), the Thomas Jefferson Center of the University of Virginia as a Distinguished Visiting Scholar 1958 - 1959), the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva (1967-l970), and the University of Paris-X (1970-1985)."

On May 31, 1980, Allais retired from his civil service and - thanks to the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Mines and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientific - Allais was able to keep some means for working and to continue to in teaching, research and writing.

Allais received many awards for his work: fourteen scientific prizes from 1933 until 1987. "The most important was the Gold Medal of the National Center for Scientific Research (C.N.R.S.), the most distinguished honor in French Science (as a rule there is only one Gold Medal every year for all sciences)," he wrote. "It was awarded to me in 1978 for my lifetime work, the first, and, so far, the only time an economist has ever received this honor."

Allais also undertook economic studies for both private and nationalized firms, but also for the European Economic Community. "Throughout the years following World War II and until the formation of the European Economic Community in 1958, I was very active as a national or international rapporteur at many of the international conferences aiming to establish an European community," he said. "I also took part in various international conferences with the view of the foundation of an Atlantic community and I was rapporteur at the "NATO in Quest of Cohesion" international conference organized in 1964 in Washington by the Center of Strategic Studies of Georgetown University."

Finally, from 1959 to 1962, Allais was also founder and general delegate to the Movement for a Free Society, a liberal para-political organization.

Allais, as he described himself in the autobiography, contributed to the fundamental Economic Science on five fields, all which concern the research of the conditions for a maximum efficiency of the economy and with the analysis of the corresponding determing factors of the distribution of income.

Allais said: "On a national level and in close connection with my work in economic analysis, I was led to study, more particularly, four areas of applied economics: economic management, the distribution of income and taxation, monetary policy, and the economy of energy, of transport and of mining research."

Allais said that, from the point of view of the management of the economy, the demonstration of the equivalence of states of maximum efficiency and states of equilibrium of an economy of markets is naturally of great import. "It shows indeed that any economy whatsoever, whether collectivist or private property, must be organized on the decentralized basis of an economy of markets in order to be efficient and to use at best the scarce resources at its disposal," he said.

"What are then the conditions of implementation of an economy of markets? What are the ethical questions raised by such an implementation? Can the techniques of an economy of markets and the ethical aspirations of our time be reconciled? What are the monetary conditions of growth? What are the conditions of full employment? Such are the questions which I tried to answer."

Allais said his major conclusion was that both the economic and ethical objectives of his time would be able to be reached at the same time only if the institutional framework within which the economy works is appropriately reformed. "I have tried to specify the principles for such a reform," he said.

On the international level, the active part Allais took in various organizations such as the European Union of Federalists, the European Movement, the Movement for an Atlantic Union, and the European Economic Communities, together with his lecturing for several years at the Institute of International Studies in Geneva, led him to study thoroughly, in various works and memoirs, the international factors of economic development, the liberalization of international trade, the monetary conditions of international economic relations, and economic unions.

In his study of the factors of development, as well as in that of the various economic systems, Allais was led to make numerous researches on the compared real income and productivity of France, the Soviet Union and the United States, to study in detail the economies of these countries, and to analyze the possible causes of the productivity differences observed. This analysis showed that the main explanatory factors are their systems of economic organization together with the institutional framework within which they operate.

"At the same time, my contacts with administrative and industrial circles led me to study, in my memoirs on the economy of energy, of transport and of mining research, three series of questions which I was asked on several times," he wrote. "What must the energy policy of investments, exploitation and price be in order to be considered effectively satisfactory? According to what principles must a rational coordination and tariff policy of transports be established? What is the optimal strategy to adopt for the mining research of mineral deposits? All these problems led me to study very diverse and concrete questions, and to reflect on numerous aspects of economic theory, econometrics and operational research. The - often new - solutions which I gave them gave rise to many debates in engineering circles and led many engineers to study economic theory and to apply it to their respective fields."

For his 1952 memoir on mining research, published in English in 1957, Allais was awarded The Lanchester Prize 1958 of the Johns Hopkins University and the Operations Research Society of America for the outstanding paper, on Operations Research.

"All my works in applied economics are closely linked to my works in economic analysis," Allais said. "Theoretical analysis naturally led me to applications, and the study of concrete questions has led me to reflect on the theoretical foundations from which it was possible to provide satisfactory answers."

Allais said that he was constantly driven by the conviction that a man of science cannot fail to take an interest in the fundamental problems of his time. "I have of course never ceased to think that, whether as an adviser or a teacher, the economist as such should not take a stand on individual ends which often are contradictory," he said. "The ends to pursue belong to the field of politics and it is in fact the essential task of political systems to define them through overall compromises. But precisely, on the economic level, the economist's role is to examine whether the ends defined through such comprises are actually compatible with each other and whether the means used to reach them are really the most appropriate."

On the whole, on the level of the analysis as well as on the level of applied economics, Allais' work has endeavored to rethink the role of economic liberty and of an economy of markets as regards the search for efficiency and the achievement of the ethical objectives of his time, and to contribute to a thorough study of the questions raised by the economic organization of societies.

"There is no doubt that my works in applied economics have been influenced by a philosophy of liberal inspiration (in the European sense) along the lines of Alexis de Tocqueville, Leon Walras, Vilfredo Pareto, and John Maynard Keynes, to name but a few," Allais added in his autobiography. "But, whatever this influence may have been, I have constantly endeavored to keep my analyses on as objective and as scientific a level as possible. In fact, all my works in applied economics are particularly marked by two characteristics, the first being that they are always founded on a thorough theoretical analysis, the second that they are constantly preoccupied with the quantitative aspects of the questions studied."

Allais said that, during his entire career from 1936, he always had two parallel interests in which he never ceased to devote an important part of his activity. "History and physics," he said. "It is in the course of my secondary studies that I first was passionated for history. That passion has never left me since."

From 1961 to 1968, Allais wrote the first version of a general book, "Essor et déclin des civilisations-Facteurs economiques" (Rise and Fall of Civilizations - Economic Factors), which he continued to improve and develop at different times over the past 40 years. "This work, as ambitious as it is daring, tries to draw out permanent regularities, particularly quantitative, from the history of civilizations, dealing with economic systems, standards of living, technology, monetary phenomena, demographic factors, inequality and social classes, the respective influences of heredity and environment, international relations, exogenous physical influences on human societies, and political systems," he said in 1988.

Allais said that his research on the economic and social factors of the history of civilizations had been extremely enlightening for him. "Nothing can be more formative than the study of the history of facts, doctrines and economic thought," he said. "Whether it be economic systems, the evolution of real income, monetary phenomena, demography, international relations, ideologies, or the interactions of these factors and their relationships of cause and effect, nothing can be more significant than their analysis."

Allais' involvement in physics dated back from his reflections on physics, mechanics and astronomy courses at the Ecole Polytechnique. "Had the National Centre for Scientific Research existed in 1938, I would have devoted myself to the study of physics and would not have become an economist," he admitted.

"But there again, over the past fifty years, while pursuing my activities as an economist, I have never stopped reflecting and working at various times on the problems involved in the elaboration of a unified theory of gravitation, electromagnetism, and quanta," he added.

On the experimental level, and as a by-product of his theoretical research, Allais conducted, from 1952 to 1960, experiments on the anomalies of the paraconical pendulum (a short pendulum, about one meter long, suspended by a steel ball), anomalies the existence of which he proved. "For these experiments I received the 1959 Galabert Prize of the French Astronautical Society, and I was laureate in 1959 of the United States Gravity Research Foundation," he said.

"My main idea at the start was that a link could be established between magnetism and gravitation by observing the movements of a pendulum consisting of a glass ball oscillating in a magnetic field. Of all the observations made in 1952 and 1953 I was not able to draw any definitive conclusion. Through certain experimental devices, I obtained positive effects, but with other devices I obtained no effect whatsoever. A much stronger magnetic field would have been necessary, but it was unrealizable in my laboratory with the available means."

But in the absence of any magnetic field other than that of the earth, Allais observed, in the course of continuous observations, pursued over periods of about one month from 1954 to 1960, remarkable anomalies in the movement of the paraconical pendulum, to wit essentially the existence of a significant periodicity of the order of 24 hours and 50 min. "Identical results were found in June-July 1958 in two laboratories, some 6 km away from each other, one in a basement, the other in an underground quarry," he said.

At the same time, Allais said, he observed in the second half of July 1958 a correspondence between the anomalies in the movement of the paraconical pendulum and the anomalies observed in the optical sightings on a fixed sighting mark through a fixed telescope.

"Finally during the total eclipses of the sun on June 30, 1954, and October 22, 1959, quite analogous deviations of the plane of oscillation of the paraconical pendulum were observed," he wrote. "In fact, all these phenomena are quite inexplicable within the framework of the currently accepted theories."

Allais was 99.


-- © BNO News All rights reserved 2010-10-11

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