Meet our new faculty member: Jean-Paul L’Huillier

Jean Paul L'HuilierPhoto/Mike Lovett

As part of our series profiling new professors, Jean-Paul L’Huillier, assistant professor in the department of economics and Brandeis International Business School, talked with BrandeisNOW about his field and research. L’Huillier joined the Brandeis faculty in January 2018.

How did you become interested in your field?

I became passionate about economics very early on. I remember that the literature teacher at high school handed us an old, short piece by Milton Friedman. The depth of the analysis made me curious to learn more. Quickly I became interested in the unusual mix of deep, almost philosophical, thinking, math and powerful real-life impact.

What was your favorite course as a college student? 

Ulrich Kohli at University of Geneva did a great job of exposing me to macroeconomics, together with the usual disjuncture and battle of ideas. I was extremely puzzled by that—that we have such little knowledge of enormously important questions for societies.

What has been your proudest career moment so far?

There’s nothing I can declare myself genuinely proud of. In my view, every single outcome is the combination of my own input, luck and divine intervention, along with other people's input. I am very happy with how my career is progressing, especially now that I am starting at Brandeis. The best moments are when I am alone in my office and I understand something truly new. That's what brings flow to the craft.

What specific question are you most excited to explore in your work at Brandeis?

Raphael Schoenle of the econ department and I are investigating what to do about liquidity traps. Liquidity traps are situations in which the Federal Reserve loses its bite on the economy, which is kind of what is going on in the U.S., Japan and Europe at the moment. The project has a new angle that people have not considered, and this is part of a long-term research agenda that built up slowly. These are really important questions to think about how to re-design monetary policy after the financial crisis. There are few things that are more intellectually exciting than thinking about possible paradigm changes.

What book would you recommend to introduce others to your field?

Good question. Thinking about it for a couple of minutes, I realize how impenetrable macro is nowadays. Existing books are both technical and rather boring, or superficial and misleading. Plus, macro is changing rapidly. One nice read is the book by Peter Temin and David Vines, “Keynes: Useful Economics for the World Economy." It is short and engaging, and provides a nice combination of economics and history. The reader will get a good sense of how macro was born.

What's your favorite book/movie/television/radio program/podcast or hobby unrelated to your field?

I have many favorite books! I am planning on re-reading Thomas Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions." It provides a deeply insightful point of view on the advancement of science, and I would recommend anyone who hasn't read it yet to take a look. On TV, one of my favorites is “The Big Bang Theory.” It's brilliant, and it makes me laugh. 

What has surprised you about Brandeis since you came to campus?

The amount of snow that can fit on campus. Now seriously: Brandeis is a great place. Everybody I met so far is professional, collegial and happy to be here. I am excited to get integrated into this community.

What advice do you have for students who are interested in your field?

An economics student nowadays is confronted with a large amount of mathematical models. I would recommend students keep in mind that models are just models. Applying them blindly to actual problems is very dangerous. For students interested in doing research, my main advice would be to try to focus on doing more economics and less math. Math is a tool, and it’s a great advantage if you can do it well, but relying on it too much can harm your long-term success with economics.

Categories: Business

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