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Over fifty of the world's leading economists, including 33 Nobel Prize laureates in Economics and 21 others who have held leading positions in the profession, have signed a letter in defence of the former Catalan minister of the economy Andreu Mas-Colell. The reason is that last month, Spain's public auditing body, the Court of Accounts announced that it was investigating the Catalan government's spending on foreign policy between 2011 and 2017, as part of its on-going search for public spending related to Catalonia's independence process. The Spanish administrative body, which despite its name is not a court of law, and yet has the power to demand millionaire sums from individuals where it deems they were personally liable for wrongful public spending, has summonsed over thirty people, including former Catalan presidents Artur Mas and Carles Puigdemont, former vice president Oriol Junqueras and many other ex-ministers such as Raül Romeva, Jordi Turull, and Andreu Mas-Colell.

Mas-Colell, best known around the world as a leading mathematical economist, took time out from his long academic career to serve as a member of the Catalan government from 2010 on. He retired when the Puigdemont government entered office at the start of 2016, and thus was not in the executive in the build-up to the Catalan independence referendum of October 2017. However, to those investigating alleged pro-independence offences, the simple fact of having resigned well before this critical period may not be enough; the 2019 Supreme Court independence leaders trial looked at events as far back as 2012 and prosecutors made an attempt, partly accepted by the court, to portray the independence process as a kind of criminal conspiracy that was developed over many years with a range of leaders being involved. 

Thus, the signatories of the letter, which is published in English as a petition, say they are "deeply concerned about the news and facts regarding professor Andreu Mas-Colell, one of the best known and most highly regarded Spanish economists" and they run through the entire career of the former minister, which includes being a professor at Harvard University, editor of Econometrica and secretary general of the European Research Council.

The Nobel laureates are clear that the Court of Accounts' proceedings "may have severe financial consequences for professor Mas-Colell" and recall that any appeal to be made "can take years​ and, in the meantime, the accused would have to put up a financial guarantee for the total amount of any specified penalty". “The professor faces the prospect of all his assets seized,” the signatories state.

Those who sign the letter - the Nobel laureates and economists who are "colleagues, students, and co-authors" of Mas-Colell describe him as a "person of the utmost integrity" who is "devoted to the public good." They also point out that "Spain was extremely fortunate that an economist of professor Mas-Colell's abilities and stature was willing to devote himself to its public service."

These are the signatories of the letter (those bearing an asterisk are Nobel winners): Philippe Aghionc, George Akerlof*, Manuel Arellano, Orazio Attanasio, Robert Aumann*, Abhijit Banerjee*, Richard Blundell, Partha Dasgupta, Angus Deaton*, Eddie Dekel, Mathias Dewatripont, Peter Diamond*, Esther Duflo*, Eugene Fama*, Ernst Fehr, Drew Fudenberg, Jordi Galí, Pinelopi Goldberg, Jean-Michel Grandmont, Rachel Griffith, Lars Hansen*, Oliver Hart*, James Heckman* , Elhanan Helpman, Bengt Holmstrom*, Dale Jorgenson, Daniel Kahne-man*, Mervyn King, Michael Kremer*, Finn Kydland*, Eric Maskin*, Daniel McFadden*, Robert Merton*, Paul Milgrom*, Stephen Morris, Roger Myerson* , Edmund Phelps*, Christopher Pissarides*, Paul Romer*, Alvin Roth*, Myron Scholes*, Amartya Sen*, Robert Shiller*, Christopher Sims*, Robert Solow*, Hugo Sonnenschein, Michael Spence*, Joseph Stiglitz*, Guido Tabellini, Richard Thaler*, Jean Tirole*, Robert Wilson* and Fabrizio Zilibotti.

Other shows of support

As MIT economist Sinan Aral commented on Twitter, "'Kafkaesque' cannot even describe what is happening in Spain to a giant of modern economics". There have been many such shows of support for Mas-Colell from individual economists and academics, and as well, some leading institutions have made officials statements on the matter.

On Sunday, the European Economic Association issued a statement to show its solidarity with the former minister. Mas-Colell was president of this organization, which expressed its hope that the matter would have a "positive resolution".

The association said Mas-Colell is one of the "most influential scholars in the economic profession", a mentor to young economists and with a "distinguished" research career in Europe and the United States. It added that the former Catalan minister always demonstrated "an unwavering spirit of service" and had "the highest level of integrity". 


Main photo: Former Catalan minister Andreu Mas-Colell / Sergi Alcàzar