[On the occasion of the launch of the volume Sustainable economic development: resources, environment, and institutions, Academic Press (2015), edited by A Balisacan, U Chakravorty, and M.-L. Ravago] 17 November 2014, PCED Auditorium.

 

We are here to celebrate two things: a book and a person. The two, of course, are inseparable, since the book will not have existed without the person. But let me say something about each.

As for the book: realise first of all that this is not your typical Festschrift, of which there are two kinds: the first is simply an anthology of the past work of the festejado  himself. The second and more customary type features the work of the festejado’s (honoree’s) students and colleagues, typically demonstrating their intellectual debt to or inspiration by the honoree’s work.  This volume is different because the honoree can be seen to be active in many of the new articles written for this volume. Jim wrote or collaborated on four of the articles appearing in this volume, the most important of which was the subject of this afternoon’s lecture. This should tell you that—unlike many other festejados—Jim Roumasset is not ready to be archived as a past economist—not even celebrated as a significant past economist. For Jim, it must seem, the tasks at hand are so enormous, the intellectual challenges so vast, and the potential good that sound policies could do so great that there is little time to simply sit back and let the accolades pour in. There is so much more to be done, and Jim will undoubtedly still be where the action is.

The range of subjects treated in this volume is vast and reflects the breadth of Jim’s own work: natural resources and the environment; agriculture; institutions and political economy; poverty; and industrialisation, to mention only the main headings.

What sets Jim’s work apart and makes it a tough act to follow, however, is more than just the breadth of the topics he has chosen to work on. First, he has booked years of actual experience studying the problems and working in real developing economies. This distinguishes him from many theoretically minded academics who can only write or speculate about development from an armchair. On the other hand, Jim is also distinct from the more common species of development economist, who—confronted and overwhelmed by the complex problems of real development—throws up his or her hands and largely gives up on any hope that academic economics, particularly theoretical work, is likely to provide any helpful guidance to real-world policy. What is remarkable about is how doggedly he has persevered in his own work in producing a fruitful dialogue between those concerned with policy and those concerned with theory. His aim is to keep theory honest by holding it up to the mirror of real-world problems; and to dispel obfuscation and charlatanism among policy-circles and would-be advisers by measuring their prescriptions against the rigorous theory.

This is also why this book will not be easy to read. Rather, it is a reference, whose contents may take a year or two to be fully digested by its audience of economic theoreticians and practitioners. I venture to say, it will not make the monthly best-seller list. What it will do, however, is to inform, educate, and inspire at least two generations of graduate students and economic professionals in just what it means to do real policy analysis of a high and rigorous standard.

For the rest, I only wish to state how honoured I was to have been invited to contribute to this volume. Unlike Arsi, Monching, Majah, and many others, I was not fortunate to have been a student of Jim’s, although he was teaching here when I was a graduate student. I have always known him however as a loyal friend and steadfast supporter of the School. We shared a common admiration for Pepe Encarnacion, who was my dissertation adviser. Both our dissertations were influenced by Pepe’s own theory of lexicographic preferences. I was therefore elated when things came full circle with this book, and Arsi and Jim asked me to collaborate with the eminent Jeffrey Williamson of Harvard for an article in the volume we launch today. Jeff was Jim’s adviser at Wisconsin and also happens to be a friend of the School and of Pepe Encarnacion—even earlier than Jim—circa the early 1970s. Working with Jeff Williamson and having the opportunity to renew that famous scholar’s old ties with the School—Jim and Jeff are now adjunct professors here—was one of the more fulfilling facets of working for this volume. (On the side, I think Jeff and I also managed to delineate and clarify some reasons behind the Philippines’ failure to industrialise.)

All in all, Jim’s association with the School is a shining example of what true international academic collaboration requires:  common research programmes, common students, common experiences, and uncommon human relationships, without which this book could not have been produced.

Jim, congratulations on this book and on your life’s work—we know more is to come, but allow us to show a bit of appreciation for what you have accomplished so far. I’m thinking Pepe Encarnacion, whose 86th birthday coincidentally falls on this day, would have been pleased to see us all here.

Good afternoon to you all.