Economist Antoine Levy is everywhere on the map


According to Antoine Levy, some of the stereotypical differences between the United States and France hold true: the weather and food are much worse in New England, he says, and the people are much more welcoming. But for Levy, who is about to start the fifth year of his MIT doctoral program in economics, the United States is starting to feel like his native France in some ways.“For a long time, I thought that France was obsessed with politics and that the United States was not,” he recalls. However, his impression has changed over the past five years. In France, from urban neighborhoods to small villages, he says everyone has an opinion about every government minister. Lately he has felt a transformation around him and has seen his American peers take more and more interest in local politics.

While this may reflect recent changes in the American political climate, a local perspective on politics is also a key signature of Levy’s research at MIT. Whether in France or the United States, the economist has long been fascinated by how politics and economics converge in different ways from one region or locality to another.

All over

Levy’s research examines how different socio-demographic markers of a country, such as population density, can shape economic activity and policy in these areas.

His current projects focus on harnessing the power of regional data to inform economic policy, from housing development to unemployment to political influence. For example, he studied the EU’s Economic and Monetary Union after the Great Recession, in relation to the Phillips curve, which, somewhat controversially, suggests that there is an inverse relationship between unemployment and growth. salaries. While aggregated national data does not show a clear Phillips curve, Levy found that European regional data follows the pattern – indicating that policy informed by regional data may be more important than ever.

“We’ve talked a lot about political polarization, but there has also been massive spatial polarization over the past 25 years,” he explains. “This conjunction of economic geography and political geography has massive implications for the relative influence of places, and for the politics and politics of trade, social insurance and redistribution.

His latest work was inspired by recent historical events – Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, the ‘yellow vests’ protests in his native France – which revealed how universal economic policies have left people behind in very different geographical situations. Too often, Levy says, people rely on a mythical idea of ​​a region without delving into patterns of population and economic behavior. For example, in a working paper, he argues that a significant part of Emmanuel Macron’s success in the 2017 French presidential election can be attributed to a specific election promise to abolish a housing tax that affected 80 % of households in the country.

A key theme of his work is how the regional economy has an important influence on individual policy decisions – although this is often overlooked by economists.

“There’s this thing in economics where people are called agents,” Levy says. “People do things. People write laws, people vote, people find jobs and consume. And at some point, you still have to ask what you would do for them.

Take all in

Part of Levy’s interest in regional variations comes from personal experience. Growing up, he often moved for his father’s work as an executive in the food industry, which took the family from the mid-sized town of Lyon in the south-east to the much smaller Périgueux, at the South West; eventually they moved to Paris for medical care and her mother’s school. Experience of the everyday economic differences between these places, even mundane details like the cost of coffee, impressed him how economic circumstances affect our choices.

“The fate of places and how it relates to the economy: I think it’s something that you can experience very concretely when you move,” says Levy. “Especially in a country as diverse as France.”

Levy’s penchant for variety followed him to college, where he couldn’t bring himself to choose between a more academic education at the École Normale Supérieure and a business school at HEC Paris. In an unusual move, he ended up signing up for both. He says he wanted to keep an eye on everything economics – from basic research to more applied fields. His adoption of interdisciplinary approaches eventually led him to MIT, where he appreciates how his program allowed him to combine his early interests in macroeconomics and international finance, and his current work on microeconomic and spatial subjects.

“Professors tend to always push you to explore your interests and be very open about your interests,” Levy explains of MIT’s economics department, where he is advised by professors Arnaud Costinot and Ivan Werning. “They were never too restrictive on what I had to work on or what I had to study, they were always very open to hear new ideas.”

This does not mean that the road has always been easy, especially with the simple investment of time for a doctorate. “I was the one who wanted to experience very short-term satisfaction,” Levy says. “Sometimes you have to slow down and go back to the beginning instead of going through a project very quickly.” To continue, he also undertakes smaller projects, such as writing short proposals, reviewing books and popular press articles.

He also takes the time to read the news or a favorite Philip Roth novel, and has fond memories of playing squash, picnicking on the Charles River, and bouncing research ideas with friends of his cohort and of the French community of MIT. He has an affinity for his expatriate comrades: “They made the choice to leave France, and I think it’s always a sign of being ready to discover the limits of your openness.

As he continues his research, Levy plans to stay focused on the issues that matter to the people around him and to remain open to topics outside of his expertise and immediate area of ​​research. Knowing that his work could have an impact on people’s lives, he is passionate about the economy, wherever in the future.

“It’s not something you do for beauty,” he says of the economy. “When you say you’re an economist and you’re at the table, people have tons of questions. If people have a question that they think is relevant to the economy, then maybe it should be. You must have an answer.


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