It is quite long and touches on many topics, but the most interesting (for me) part of the discussion centered on the differences between various models of academic research environment. Here are some excerpts:
In France we have a marvel which is the CNRS. It’s a place where gifted people can get positions that they can keep for the rest of their lives. The main point is that it makes it possible for people like Lafforgue to think for many years about a problem without having to produce n papers per year and apply for an NSF grant. Young people can invest in long term projects which they could never do in a system with a short time unit.
You cannot decide before hand whom will be a Lafforgue and you will almost automatically have other people that will produce very little. It’s a rule. It is the price to pay to eliminate this pressure to write n papers per year which is nonsense in subjects which are really difficult. It takes 5-6 years to learn such a subject and you don’t produce anything in that long interval. The French system is extremely efficient in that sense that it gives to some people the ability to work without being constantly bugged by the need to produce a paper. It is totally different from other systems but it is successful. Most of the CNRS researchers in mathematics are very interesting and productive mathematicians
I believe that the most successful systems so far were these big institutes in the Soviet union, like the Landau institute, the Steklov institute, etc. Money did not play any role there, the job was just to talk about science. It is a dream to gather many young people in an institute and make sure that their basic activity is to talk about science without getting corrupted by thinking about buying a car, getting more money, having a plan for career etc.... Of course in the former Soviet Union there were no such things as cars to buy etc so the problem did not arise. In fact CNRS comes quite close to that dream too, provided one avoids all interference from our society which nowadays unfortunately tends to become more and more money oriented.
Yep, this is pretty much what I imagined my future to be when I was just starting out. Unfortunately, France seems to be the only country left in Europe (indeed, the world) which still maintains such a system, while the rest of the world is stampeding towards the US-style competitive grant-based system, in spite of the enormous amounts of waste and misery it generates, with the country where I live -- the Netherlands -- leading the pack (a friend once described the Netherlands as "a poor man's America"). I should have listened to my mother and learned French while in grad school.