The Tinbergen way, a speech by Professor Anne Gielen at our Dies Natalis

Anne Gielen, Professor of Labour Economics and Policy at Erasmus School of Economics, gave an insight in Jan Tinbergen’s work selecting a few key items in his research during the annual Dies Natalis on Friday, 8 November.

The Dies was marked above all by the fiftieth anniversary of EUR-affiliated economist Jan Tinbergen’s Nobel Prize. Among others, Esther Duflo received an honorary doctorate during the ceremony for her research focused on the well-being of the poorest socioeconomic class. Dani Rodrik, Professor of International Political Economy at Harvard, also received an honorary doctorate for his research on jobs and economic growth in countries with both developing and highly developed economies.

Anne Gielen starts her speech with Tinbergen’s early work, which brought him the first Nobel Prize in Economics together with Ragnar Frisch in 1969. He was among the first to apply mathematical and statistical techniques from physics and other disciplines to economic data and models. Econometrics was born.

‘In addition to improved and extended model-building, and more sophisticated econometric methods, the range of topics that is being modelled has extended since Tinbergen.’ Hereby Anne Gielen refers to the variety of research done by Erasmus School of Economics. ‘We even study questions related to the performance of soccer teams, cannabis and other drugs, and household garbage disposal.’

Tinbergen’s vision was the main driver behind his research, always grounded to solve social problems he observed. The topics of economics changed because of his sense of responsibility for society. It was his mission to make the world a better place, states Gielen.

At the end of her speech Gielen sums up the guidelines for scientific work outlined by Tinbergen. Open-mindedness, connecting, remaining as close to empirical data as possible and addressing the most pressing problems in the world. These are the university-wide values, she concludes, listed in the strategy from Erasmus University Rotterdam: ‘Creating positive societal impact’. This makes her wonder whether the title of our strategy shouldn’t have been ‘The Tinbergen way’ instead.