Jan Tinbergen

Dutch economist (1903–1994)

Jan Tinbergen (April 12, 1903 – June 9, 1994) was a Dutch economist. He was awarded the first Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel in 1969, which he shared with Ragnar Frisch for having developed and applied dynamic models for the analysis of economic processes. Tinbergen was a founding trustee of Economists for Peace and Security.

Jan Tinbergen, 1979.


  • The shaping or reformulation of the aims of economic policy which are only vaguely felt may be exemplified in the aim of social justice.
    • Jan Tinbergen (1964) Economic policy: principles and design. (1964). p. 22; Quoted in: Paul Schenderling. The Size and Transmission of Fiscal Spillovers: an Empirical Characterisation. (2012) p. 6
  • For some queer and deplorable reason most human beings are more impressed by words than by figures, to the great disadvantage of mankind.
    • Jan Tinbergen. "The necessity of quantitative social research." Sankhyā: The Indian Journal of Statistics, Series B (1973): 141-148.
  • A just social order can best be described as a humanist socialism, because its goal would be the establishment of equal possibilities within and between all countries, and at its base would lie universal human values
    • Jan Tinbergen (1980), Reexamining the International Order Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1980)
Ehrenfest's students, Leiden 1924. Left to right: Gerhard Heinrich Dieke, Samuel Abraham Goudsmit, Jan Tinbergen, Paul Ehrenfest, Ralph Kronig, and Enrico Fermi.
  • To Ehrenfest I owe a great deal. I studied physics at a time when a number of fascinating persons were there together. Ehrenfest would not instruct as such, as he preferred dialogue. Thanks to him I could participate in discussions with Albert Einstein. Also Kamerling Onnes, Lorentz and Zeeman were present. Being a student in the hands of such teachers, you are very fortunate indeed.
    • In: NRC-Handelsblad in 1987; as quoted in: Jan Tinbergen at MacTutor History of Mathematics, 2009: Quote about one of his teachers at the University of Leiden
  • Mankind’s problems can no longer be solved by national governments. What is needed is a World Government. This can best be achieved by strengthening the United Nations system. In some cases, this would mean changing the role of UN agencies from advice-giving to implementation. But some of the most important new institutions would be financial—a World Treasury and a World Central Bank. Just as each nation has a system of income redistribution, so there should be a corresponding ‘World Financial Policy’ to be implemented by the World Bank and the World Central Bank. Some of these proposals are, no doubt, far-fetched and beyond the horizon of today’s political possibilities. But the idealist of today often turns out to be the realists of tomorrow.

Econometrics, 1951

  • Econometrics is the name for a field of science in which mathematical-economic and mathematical-statistical research are applied in combination. Econometrics, therefore, forms a borderland between two branches of science, with the advantages and disadvantages thereof; advantages, because new combinations are introduced which often open up new perspectives; disadvantages, because the work in this field requires skill in two domains, which either takes up too much time or leads to insufficient training of its students in one of the two respects.
    • p. 3; Cited in: Econometrica: journal of the Econometric Society. (1953) p. 36
  • As a boundary science, econometrics is younger than the adjacent regions, which fact likewise has advantages and disadvantages. As a disadvantage, the lack of an established doctrine, and also the lack of established textbooks, can be felt; as an advantage is the fresh enthusiasm, with which its students work.
    • p. 3; Cited in: Economia e finanças: anais do Instituto superior de ciências económicas e financeiras. (1953), p. 463

Shaping the world economy, 1962


Jan Tinbergen. Shaping the world economy; suggestions for an international economic policy. Twentieth Century Fund, 1962.

  • The world is in a process of a great transformation. In a considerable part of it a new economic order, "communism," is being vigorously tried out. Elsewhere an old order is passing as one country after another throws of the yoke of colonialism. The wholesale introduction of Western techniques and ways of life shaking the foundations of numerous beliefs and attitudes, for good and for evil.
    • p. 3 : Lead in paragraph "introducing the book"
  • The main sources of tension in today's world economy could be grouped under the following categories:
(i) the underdevelopment of a large part of world
(ii) competition between different economic systems
(iii) the passing of colonialism
(iv) economic instability, especially in primary markets, and
(v) national shortsightedness, especially in trade policy
  • p. 91
  • The factor of distance may also stand for an index of information about export markets.
    • p. 263
  • The dominant role played by... exporters’ and importers’ GNP and distance in explaining trade flows.
    • p. 266

"The Use of Models: Experience," 1969


The Use of Models: Experience and Prospects, Lecture to the memory of Alfred Nobel, December 12, 1969

  • First of all I want to remind you of the essential features of models. In my opinion they are: (i) drawing up a list of the variables to be considered; (ii) drawing up a list of the equations or relations the variables have to obey and (iii) testing the validity of the equations, which implies the estimation of their coefficients, if any. As a consequence of especially (iii) we may have to revise (i) and (ii) so as to arrive at a satisfactory degree of realism of the theory embodied in the model. Then, the model may be used for various purposes, that is, for the solution of various problems. The advantages of models are, on one hand, that they force us to present a "complete" theory by which I mean a theory taking into account all relevant phenomena and relations and, on the other hand, the confrontation with observation, that is, reality. Of course these remarks are far from new.
  • The advantages of models are, on one hand, that they force us to present a "complete" theory by which I mean a theory taking into account all relevant phenomena and relations and, on the other hand, the confrontation with observation, that is, reality.
  • It is also our hope that the interpretation of the socio-economic optimum as a set of institutions may help to get under way a discussion of a more scientific character than was usual so far about the relative merits of various existing socio-economic orders, especially those of Eastern and Western Europe, including such interesting cases as Sweden, Switzerland and Yugoslavia. A considerable amount of better information about various types of external effects will be one of the necessary ingredients if we want to give concrete content to such merit rating of various systems.
  • It is my hope that in such a way we may again, as Marx claimed, find scientific arguments in the competition between various systems, but up-to-date scientific arguments rather than obsolete ones. This more fundamental research in economics deserves relatively more attention and resources than the more superficial versions of economic research directed at forecasting or analysing very short-term fluctuations in market prices, on which quite some money is being spent to-day.
Jan Tinbergen (right) and premier Lubbers at a conference NOVIB "Weapons and well-being," 1987

Income Distribution (1975)


Jan Tinbergen. Income Distribution (1975)

  • What matters is the di¤erence between qualities available and qualities required by the demand side, that is by the organization of production.
    • p. 15; Cited in: Acemoglu, Daron. Technical change, inequality, and the labor market. No. w7800. National bureau of economic research, 2000. p. 11
  • The two preponderant forces at work are technological development, which made for a relative increase in demand and hence in the income ratio... and increased access to schooling, which made for a relative decrease.
    • p. 35; Cited in: Acemoglu (2000, p. 16)
  • The central question of economic policy is the question of the effectiveness of its various instruments.
    • p. 53
  • An inequality-furthering phenomenon is technological development. But need it be? Increasingly we get the feeling that technological development is not simply something given, but that it may be guided, within limits.
    • p. 61; Cited in: Acemoglu (2000, p. 31)
  • Educational policies deserve to be programmed not only with a view to improving education in the widest sense, but also in order to ináuence the income distribution.
    • p. 148

Quotes about Tinbergen

  • Tinbergen's methodology was exceptional at that time and was received sometimes with scepticism. In particular J.M. Keynes (1939), at the time editor of the Economic Journal, reviewed 'Professor Tinbergen's Method' quite critically, raising as one of the fundamental points that 'The method is neither of discovery nor of criticism. It is a means of giving quantitative precision to what, in qualitative terms, we know already as the result of a complete theoretical analysis.' Of course the latter criticism illustrates precisely Tinbergen's conviction that knowledge relevant for policy making should preferably be quantitative in nature. As to 'discovery,' Tinbergen (1940) in his 'Reply' indicated that 'it sometimes happens that the course of the curves itself suggests that some factor not mentioned in most economic textbooks must be of great importance,' and he mentioned some examples. 'As to the possibility of 'criticism,' it seems to me,' Tinbergen (1940) argued, 'that the value found for one or more of the regression coefficients may imply a criticism on one or more of the theories that have been used.'
    In a 'Comment' to Tinbergen's 'Reply,' Keynes (1940) still held some doubts: 'that there is anyone I would trust with it at the present stage or that this brand of statistical alchemy is ripe to become a branch of science, I am not yet persuaded.' But Keynes concluded: 'No one could be more frank, more painstaking, more free from subjective bias or parti pris than professor Tinbergen... But Newton, Boyle and Locke all played with alchemy. So let him continue.' And so Tinbergen did.
  • Along with Frisch and others Tinbergen developed the field of econometrics, the use of statistical tools to test economic hypotheses. Tinbergen was one of the first economists to create multiequation models of economies. He produced a twenty-seven-equation econometric model of the Dutch economy, and his 1939 book, Business Cycles in the United States, 1919–1932, includes a forty-eight-equation model of the American economy that explains investment activity and models American business cycles.
    • "Jan Tinbergen," The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. 2008. Library of Economics and Liberty. 10 June 2014. .
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