Jan Tinbergen: The Thinker


Jan Tinbergen shaped economics and policy in the Netherlands and around the world. He founded the Centraal Planbureau (CPB), developed the first comprehensive macroeconomic model, and made many other contributions to the development of economics in the 20th century. Yet philosophers and historians of economics have only begun to explore the rich ideas of this thinker. Our project engages with Tinbergen’s ideas across its many aspects and investigates its impact on economics.

Who Was Jan Tinbergen?

Jan Tinbergen is one of the most important scientists from EUR. His contributions to economics were greatly admired both in his time and today. He was awarded the first Nobel Prize in economic sciences in 1969, “for having developed and applied dynamic models for the analysis of economic processes”. At EUR, the year 2019 was the “Year of Tinbergen”, celebrating 50th anniversary. Tinbergen is best known today for his research in econometrics: he fundamentally shaped its evolution as a subdiscipline of economics. He also made crucial contributions to economic policy at the CPB, many international organisations, and development work. He was instrumental in the creation of the modern notion of the ‘economic expert’. Moreover, Tinbergen also had outspoken and active ethical views, from a distinctive socialist perspective. His ideas regarding redistribution, the role of expertise, and economic methodology are still very much unexplored.

Our Project

We mainly focus on several aspects of Tinbergen’s work. Firstly, we are researching Tinbergen's ideas about expertise and relating them to wider debates. Secondly, we are relating Tinbergen's methodology of economics to current debates: his thoughts about modelling, values in science, and econometric inference. Thirdly, we are investigating the rich historical significance of Tinbergen in development economics, methodology, and fairness/redistribution. Our overarching goals are both to engage historically with the many unexplored ideas in his research and to give them new life by connecting them with contemporary discussions.


Dr. Constanze Binder, Dr. Erwin Dekker, Dr. Conrad Heilmann, Dr. William Peden, Prof.dr. Jack Vromen

Jan Tinbergen and the Rise of Economic Expertise

Erwin's biographical study of Jan Tinbergen and his ideas is available from May 2021, from Cambridge University Press, titled Jan Tinbergen and the Rise of Economic Expertise. It will also be available in Dutch. He places Tinbergen's ideas about expertise, economic development, utility, equality, and more, into their historical context. The book identifies Tinbergen's legacy in the Netherlands, Turkey, India, and beyond.

Postdoctoral Researcher

William Peden joined the project as a postdoctoral researcher in August 2020. Previously, he had worked and studied in Univpm Ancona, Italy and in Durham University, in the UK. His research is focused on connecting Tinbergen's ideas with contemporary debates in the philosophy of economics. He is also using historical case studies of the ideas of Tinbergen to illuminate the history of economic methodology, such as the Marshallian-Walrasian divide regarding the proper role of general equilibrium.

With Erwin Dekker, he has also created a new course at Erasmus University, the Philosophy and Economics of Tinbergen, based around Tinbergen's ideas and their connections with contemporary debates in the philosophy of economics. The course is available to Research Masters students. For an interview with William, see here. For more information about William’s past research, see here.

EIPE and the philosophy of economics

We will approach Jan Tinbergen’s work from the perspective of the “philosophy of economics”. This is an emerging research field that investigates ethical, methodological and conceptual questions about economics. The EUR has a longstanding tradition of distinguished research in philosophy of economics, as the Erasmus Institute for Philosophy and Economics (EIPE), founded in 1997, has played a major role in shaping the field. We will investigate Jan Tinbergen’s work through the lens of research from this field. 

Advisory Board 

Prof. dr. Philip Hans Franses (Erasmus School of Economics), Prof. dr. Roger Backhouse (Birmingham and Erasmus University Rotterdam), Prof. dr. Marcel Boumans (Utrecht School of Economics), Mary Morgan (London School of Economics)


The project is supported by ESPhil, EIPE, ESE, Erasmus Initiative “Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity” and the Erasmus Trustfunds.