Franco Modigliani's contributions in economics and finance have transformed both fields. Although many other major contributions in those fields have come and gone, Modigliani's contributions seem to grow in importance with time. His famous 1944 article on liquidity preference has not only remained required reading for generations of Keynesian economists but has become part of the vocabulary of all economists. The implications of the life-cycle hypothesis of consumption and saving provided the primary motivation for the incorporation of finite lifetime models into macroeconomics and had a seminal role in the growth in macroeconomics of the overlapping generations approach to modeling of Allais, Samuelson, and Diamond. Modigliani and Miller's work on the cost of capital transformed corporate finance and deeply influenced subsequent research on investment, capital asset pricing, and recent research on derivatives. Modigliani received the Nobel Memorial Prize for Economics in 1985.
In macroeconomic policy, Modigliani has remained influential on two continents. In the United States, he played a central role in the creation of a the Federal Reserve System's large-scale quarterly macroeconometric model, and he frequently participated in the semiannual meetings of academic consultants to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System in Washington, D.C. His visibility in European policy matters is most evident in Italy, where nearly everyone seems to know him as a celebrity, from his frequent appearances in the media. In the rest of Europe, his visibility has been enhanced by his publication, with a group of distinguished European and American economists, of “An Economists' Manifesto on Unemployment in the European Union,” which was signed by a number of famous economists and endorsed by several others.
This interview was conducted in two parts on different dates in two different locations, and later unified. The initial interview was conducted by Robert Solow at Modigliani's vacation home in Martha's Vineyard. Following the transcription of the tape from that interview, the rest of the interview was conducted by William Barnett in Modigliani's apartment on the top floor of a high-rise building overlooking the Charles River near Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Those concluding parts of the interview in Cambridge continued for the two days of November 5–6, 1999 with breaks for lunch and for the excellent espresso coffee prepared by Modigliani in an elaborate machine that would be owned only by someone who takes fine coffee seriously.
Although the impact that Modigliani has had on the economics and finance professions is clear to all members of those professions, only his students can understand the inspiration that he has provided to them. However, that may have been adequately reflected by Robert Shiller at Yale University in correspondence regarding this interview, when he referred to Modigliani as: “my hero.”