Jan Tinbergen Research Paper

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When the Nobel Foundation initiated an award in economic sciences in memory of Alfred Nobel, it was no surprise that the first award in 1969 went jointly to Jan Tinbergen and Ragnar Frisch (1895-1937), two leading figures in the formation of the Econometric Society and the establishment of a new branch of economics early in the twentieth century.

Jan Tinbergen, like other economic scholars, began academic studies in science, but switched to economics and carried the mathematical background that became the hallmark of the new branch of economics. He made numerous original contributions to economic analysis, theory, and practice, but his greatest single contribution was in constructing the first working econometric models of a system as a whole, first for Holland, and later, for the United States. In the latter study, he was searching for a system that would enable economists to find the most satisfactory model of the business cycle. In that respect he tried to find a statistical representation of the ideas expressed by John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) and his followers at Cambridge University during the years of the Great Depression in the 1930s. Although he did not uncover the secret of the cycle, he did succeed in laying the groundwork for empirical macroeconometric model building, in spite of Keynes’s dislike of Tinbergen’s approach, which Keynes did not fully understand. Tinbergen’s U.S. model prominently displayed the role of income distribution, the wealth effect, and some model specifications that would lead eventually to a well-established relation between wages and unemployment. The wealth effect, which is now investigated on a broad scale, came about through Tinbergen’s idea that price movements on the stock exchange played an important role in explaining the U.S. downturn after 1929.

It is important to note that Tinbergen made his pioneering contribution to macroeconometric model building in a dynamic framework at a time when usable national data were sparse and computational facilities were primitive. His work is being carried on and extended now with unusually better national accounts, frequency of data reporting, improved economic concepts, and enormous computer power with speed, all to make the tasks of econometric model building for the succeeding generation much easier for those who learned basics from Jan Tinbergen.

Tinbergen made early studies of income distribution and elasticity of substitution in international trade. He was dedicated to strong pacifist views. After World War II (1939-1945) he headed the Central Planning Bureau of the Netherlands and devoted his life to many worthy social causes; at the very end of his life he was soliciting help from colleagues and friends worldwide to support efforts against exploitation of children. He had a very systematic mind and conceived principles of economic planning, based on the clever separation, and distinctive properties of economic policy instruments and targets. Many politicians fail to make the appropriate distinction. In his exposition of policy formation in economics and in his work as director of the Central Planning Bureau, he made such distinctions clear.

Throughout his career, he trained many Dutch students in economics and also attracted many from abroad, especially after World War II. He is remembered as a person who led an exemplary life with simple tastes, great generosity, and a deep social conscience. In addition to his activities aimed at protecting children worldwide, Jan Tinbergen was a founding supporter of Economists Against the Arms Race (ECAAR) during the cold war. In line with his charitable instincts, during the immediate post-World War II period he generally carried cigarettes for a supplement to service fees such as taxi fares, even though he was a nonsmoker.


  1. De Wolff, Pieter. 1983. Jan Tinbergen als Modellen Bouwer. Economisch-Statistische Berichten 68: 308–311.
  2. Keynes, John Maynard. 1939. Professor Tinbergen’s Method. The Economic Journal 49: 558–568.
  3. Tinbergen, Jan. 1939. Statistical Testing of Business Cycle Theories.
  4. Business Cycles in the United States of America, 1919–1932. Geneva, Switzerland: League of Nations.
  5. Tinbergen, Jan. On a Method of Statistical Business Cycle Research: A Reply. The Economic Journal 50: 141–154.
  6. Tinbergen, Jan. 1946. Some Measurements of Elasticities of Substitution. Review of Economic Statistics 28 (August): 109–116.
  7. Tinbergen, Jan. 1950. Note on the Measurement of Elasticity of Substitution in International Trade. Review of Economics and Statistics 32 (February): 20–21.
  8. Tingbergen, Jan. 1951. Business Cycles in the United Kingdom, 1870–1914. Amsterdam: North-Holland.
  9. Tinbergen, Jan. 1952. On the Theory of Economic Policy. Amsterdam: North-Holland.
  10. Tinbergen, Jan. 1956. Economic Policy: Principles and Design. Amsterdam: North-Holland.
  11. Tinbergen, Jan. 1956. On the Theory of Income Distribution. Weltwirtschaftliches Archiv 77: 10–31.
  12. Tinbergen, Jan. 1959. An Economic Policy for 1936. In Jan Tinbergen Selected Papers, eds. L. H. Klassen, Leen M. Koyck, and H. Johannes Witteveen, 37–84. Amsterdam: North-Holland.

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