Nobel Prize Laureate Jan Tinbergen

Tinbergen Institute is named after the Dutch economist Jan Tinbergen who, together with Ragnar Frisch, was awarded the first Nobel Prize in Economics in 1969: “for having developed and applied dynamic models for the analysis of economic processes”.

Jan Tinbergen was born in The Hague, The Netherlands, in 1903, as the first of five children in an intellectually stimulating family. Eventually, two of the children would win a Nobel Prize: Jan in Economics in 1969 and Nico (an ethologist) in Physiology and Medicine in 1973. Jan Tinbergen enrolled as a student of mathematical physics at Leiden University in 1921, where he obtained his doctorate in 1929. Already at an early age Tinbergen was profoundly impressed by the horrors of the First World War, partly because of the fate of the Austrian refugee children his parents had lodged. In Leiden as a student, when he was invited by his postman to join him on his rounds, he was appalled by the conditions of poverty in which the local population lived. Wishing to contribute to the struggle against such social evils, he decided to become an economist. This decision was characteristic of Tinbergen and his attitude towards economic science in his later life: his scientific contributions would always be inspired by the wish to tackle the pressing socioeconomic problems of his time, such as the Great Depression of the 1930s, the devastation after the Second World War, the poverty in the Third World and the threat of new disasters during the Cold War period from 1945 until 1989.

Tinbergen started the work that would later win him the Nobel Prize at the Dutch Bureau of Statistics in 1929. After carrying out preliminary studies of the economic dynamics of individual industrial sectors, he presented the world’s first dynamic macroeconomic model in 1936 for The Netherlands. A subsequent dynamic model commissioned by the League of Nations (Geneva) using data for the United States was published in 1939 in his two-volume book, Statistical Testing of Business-Cycle Theories.

Later in his career Tinbergen would make path-breaking contributions in such fields as theory and practice of economic policy, efficient and fair income distributions and development planning.

In 1933, Tinbergen was appointed as Professor of Statistics, mathematical economics and econometrics at the Netherlands School of Economics, the forerunner of the present-day Erasmus School of Economics at Erasmus University, one of the three founding institutions of Tinbergen Institute. Tinbergen was an enthusiastic supporter of Tinbergen Institute and visited the institute several times.

see also: Peter A. Cornelisse and Herman K. van Dijk , ‘Jan Tinbergen (1903-1994)’, in Steven N. Durlauf and Lawrence E. Blume (eds.), The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics, Second Edition, 2008.

Selected publications by Jan Tinbergen