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A Tribute to Economist Bernard Maris (Sept. 23, 1946 – Jan. 7, 2015)

I was shocked to learn that Bernard Maris had been murdered at a meeting of the editors of Charlie Hebdo in Paris on January 7, 2015. He died at his desk, killed by the fanaticism that he regularly denounced.

Bernard Maris was an economist and a member of the governing board of the Bank of France, professor at the Institute of European studies of the University of Paris-VIII, a former University of Iowa professor, and journalist for the publication Charlie Hebdo, where he wrote a weekly column, under the pseudonym of “Uncle Bernard” — a column in which he explained the mysteries of finance. In a profile of victims published Wednesday evening, the Los Angeles Times reported Bernard Maris was a “noted Keynesian and political maverick,” who was widely read and appeared frequently on French television and radio to debate economics and politics. The Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reported:

[Bernard Maris] had a wonderful talent for explaining complex notions in simple language… In his newspaper, television and radio work, he argued for a world that was more just… Like his friends and colleagues, Bernard Maris fought against inequality, injustice and oppression. The world is a sadder place without the mockery of brave, clever, funny, people like them.

The governor of the Bank of France Christian Noyer observed:

[I]t is a cowardly and barbaric attack against the freedom of the press and those who stand for it. People with convictions including our friend and colleague Bernard Maris were killed in it. Bernard Maris was a man of heart, culture and great tolerance. He will be sorely missed.

Bernard Maris was, indeed, a delightful man of great dignity, culture, and tolerance. He was an old-style French intellectual, a scholar of Keynes, and a public figure. He had been active in Attac France and was a friend of Michel Houellebecq, the French writer whose new controversial novel Submission imagines a Muslim president for France in 2022. Bernard Maris admired Houellebecq, even paying tribute to the author in a book called Houellebecq Economist (2014, Flammarion). He clashed regularly with mainstream, French business journalists. He worked to denounce the “fury of capitalism.” Similarly, in the Islamic world — in the Middle East as in Europe — the key conflict he saw as an internal one — the clash between opposing ideas on society and politics, even more than on religion.

Bernard Maris, born in Toulouse, was 68 years old. He was the son of Spanish Republicans who emigrated to France and a typical product of this “republican elitism” which some beautiful souls are presently deriding. After graduating from Sciences Po Toulouse in 1968, Bernard Maris earned a doctorate in economics at the University of Toulouse I in 1975 with a thesis entitled La distribution personnelle des revenus: une approche théorique dans le cadre de la croissance équilibrée (The personal distribution of income: A theoretical approach to balanced growth), prepared under the direction of Professor Jean Vincens. In September 1994, he earned his Full Professorship at Sciences Po Toulouse.

He was the author of the remarkable Antimanuel d’économie (Antimanual of Economics published by Bréal in 2 volumes, 2003, 2006) and of an important collective work showing his interest in social sciences, Gouverner par la Peur (To Govern through Fear, in 2007). He was awarded the Prize of “best economist” of 1995 given by Le Nouvel Économiste, and published important books like Ah Dieu ! Que la guerre économique est jolie ! (God, what a Pretty Economic War !, in 1998), Lettre ouverte aux gourous de l’économie qui nous prennent pour des imbéciles (An Open letter to Economic Gurus who take us for Imbeciles, in 1999). He also coauthored two books (Capitalisme et pulsion de mort, 2009 [Capitalism and impulse of death] and Marx, ô Marx, pourquoi m’as-tu abandonné?, 2010 [Marx, o Marx, why have you forsaken me?]).

The extent of Bernard Maris’s knowledge was not limited to economics. His grasp of history, and his insights into various social sciences struck anybody who read him. Bernard took Adam Smith’s lead in viewing economics as a “moral science” with close ties to the full span of social sciences. Nothing was more foreign to him than the mystery of Walras’ pure economics that somehow inspired a whole tradition of economists who shine as much by their formalized reasoning as by their unrealistic deductions. Bernard Maris was waiting impatiently for a transformation in economic thought, distanced from the private playground of self-styled mathematicians disguised as economists.

His influence on generations of students has been considerable. He was, and will remain, a model of a citizen economist, like Keynes, who was his great inspiration. He shared with other prominent economists an impatience for mainstream ideas and an antipathy for power.

Appointed in 2011 to the General Counsel of the Bank of France, Bernard Maris had already clearly expressed his doubts concerning the survival of the Eurozone. In early 2014, he explained why he was forthwith favorable to a dissolution of the Eurozone and to a return to national currencies. He argued that there will be a new financial crisis, that the Eurozone will burst, that Europe will balkanize — it is already balkanized. Nevertheless a number of events that arose during the last ten years were not predictable. The financial crisis: could it really have been foreseen? The Twin Towers? As one can imagine, his position about this subject has evolved with time. Many are convinced that his positions concerning the coming Greek crisis would have been important.

Italian economist Mario Pianta Professor of Economic Policy at the University of Urbino and co-author of a recent book (Sbilanciamo l’economia. Una via d’uscita dalla crisi, Laterza, 2013) (“Off balance. A way out of the crisis”), raised an important question related to the unexpected death of Bernard Maris by asking:

[I]n what kind of convulsion of history do Islamic extremists at war with western power manage to kill Bernard Maris, one of the voices who denounced western power?

Which ideological blindness prevents them from understanding the internal conflicts of capitalism? Obviously, for those who want to erase freedom of expression, there are no differences that matter between western “infidels.” Likewise, for the new European fascism, all Muslim citizens and immigrants are potential terrorists. We must put ourselves in the shoes — that’s what tolerance is all about — of the millions of human beings, all equal in dignity, who live in inhuman conditions. Promises to improve them, made by the more prosperous countries, have almost always been unkept. And years of neglect, exclusion, humiliation, and abandonment by the rest of the world, have fostered feelings of frustration, hostility, resentment, and radicalization that rise to the point where there seems to be no possible solution. It is then that violent reactions sometimes explode.

Learning to live together, with all our differences, but united by the same principles, “in brotherhood,” as described in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The immense majority of citizens of all cultures, beliefs, and ideologies demand the right to live in peace, and it is incumbent upon all of us to exercise our rights and duties to make this a reality. We must make an urgent effort towards dialogue and conciliation; towards alliance rather than confrontation. Identifying what unites us and evaluating what separates us; to forge our inevitably common destiny.

Violence can never be justified. But it should be studied in order to identify its origins and thus help us to make advances in avoiding it, in preventing it. Violence has two principal roots: poverty and fear. The senseless death of Bernard Maris brings us back to our duty to oppose injustice, and first and foremost, those produced by our countries; our power; our consumption. His death brings us back to a commitment to political debate and may help us to look ahead as he did. He thought that the future was beyond markets and commodities, in a sharing economy with meaningful jobs, cultural commons, and social solidarity. Instead of a “market economy” or a “war economy,” we need an economy that would enable us to implement the Millennium Objectives. That is, the social, economic, and environmental commitments adopted by the Heads of State and Government in 2000 at the United Nations General Assembly: I: Values and principles; II: Peace, security and disarmament; III: Development and poverty eradication; IV: Protecting our common environment; V: Human rights, democracy and good governance; VI: Protecting the vulnerable; VII: Meeting the special needs of Africa; and VIII: Strengthening the United Nations. As observed recently by former Director General of UNESCO Federico Mayor Zaragoza, it will soon be fifteen years since this solemn declaration. Again, unfulfilled commitments. Again a culture of might, imposition, and violence prevails over a culture of dialogue, understanding, listening and peace.

It is urgent to humanize globalization, to reduce drastically existing inequalities, and to ensure that migration is a choice — not simply the last resort of the alienated. Putting people first, without exception, was Bernard’s, and is our, main objective. We should all work together to counter authoritarian regimes that are writing laws that restrict rights and ignore legal procedures that protect prisoners from torture and mistreatment. There are too many who either consent or look the other way. As former Director General of UNESCO Federico Mayor Zaragoza argued, “security cannot be guaranteed at the cost of human rights.” He noted correctly that, “The security of peace, yes! The peace of security, never!” That is, peace without freedom; the peace of distrust and fear. Former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali argued that globalization doesn’t give thought to working conditions, political machinery, or human rights. Through takeovers and megamergers, the global picture has become tenser through increasing inequalities, but what is worse is that those who exercise governmental powers in the name of their citizens have ceased to be accountable. Not only economic and social conditions, but also environmental deterioration, cultural uniformity, and the loss of moral references now depend to a considerable extent on the “faceless power” of large multinational enterprises that do as they please with total impunity.

Like Bernard Maris, as a social scientist I must emphasize that it is necessary to understand the nature of reality if one wishes to transform it. And it is clear that civil society will progressively acquire the mechanisms to quickly identify the lies, excuses, and efforts to demonstrate, amid much publicity, the undemonstratable. Extremism of any nature is destructive. We must be aware of the reality of the “teachings” of beliefs that promptly convert people into individuals. Religious sentiments that isolate; that fill converts with fear and superstition. On the one hand, they seek to convert us into mere spectators of what is happening around us, and on the other, compound efforts to proselytize and oppress rather than liberate. “It is through fraternity that liberty is saved,” wrote Victor Hugo several centuries ago. It is through that sentiment that we cease to be individuals and become people; citizens capable of persuading all others that knowledge of reality, anticipation, the evolution of rules and criteria are fundamental elements if we are to sail to other ports and change our present course.

Federico Mayor Zaragoza proposed in his book A New World, published in 1999, that the “war economy” must give way to a great “global contract for development.” And let no one say that this is impossible! If anyone thinks so or tries to convince others that it is true, let them read John F. Kennedy’s speech, “The Strategy for Peace,” given at American University in Washington, D.C. on June 10, 1963:

Too many of us think that [peace] is impossible. (…) …that we are gripped by forces we cannot control. (…) Our problems are Man-made. Therefore, they can be solved by Man. (…) No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.

In the introduction to one of the most inspiring documents of our time, the Constitution of UNESCO, created in London in 1945, “to construct peace in the minds of men,” it is said “that a peace based exclusively upon the political and economic arrangements of governments would not be a peace which could secure the unanimous, lasting and sincere support of the peoples of the world, and that the peace must therefore be founded, if it is not to fail, upon the intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind.” As former Director General of UNESCO Federico Mayor Zaragoza argued, up to now, if we look back carefully, we note that people have never been the focus. We have been submissive; ploughing other people’s furrows, fighting for causes frequently opposed to our own. Now the moment has arrived to get involved, to be taken into account and to be full citizens.

May the spirit and ambitions of Bernard Maris live on through us. It is now up to us to be true to his vision of a more peaceful, knowledgeable, humane, and a tolerant world. To be true to his legacy, we have a lot of work to do!

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