Jan Tinbergen is one of the founding fathers of
econometrics, publishing in the field from 1927
until the early 1950s. This was the frontier age of
econometrics when the distinction between
mathematical economics and econometrics, let alone
between theoretical and applied econometrics, did
not yet exist. Tinbergen's approach to economics has
always been a practical one. This was highly
appropriate for the new field of econometrics, and
enabled him to make important contributions to
conceptual and theoretical issues, but always in the
context of a relevant economic problem. The
development of the first macroeconometric models,
the solution of the identification problem, and the
understanding of dynamic models are perhaps his
three most important legacies to econometrics.
Tinbergen was awarded the first Nobel Memorial Prize
in economics in 1969 (jointly with Ragnar Frisch)
for his contributions to econometrics.
Tinbergen's desire to communicate his ideas to others
is matched by a talent for clear and direct writing.
This gives his econometric work great appeal and an
apparent simplicity which should not be
underestimated. This talent was also fruitfully
applied to the development of pedagogical tools for
teaching econometrics to his students.
Since the early 1950s Tinbergen's interests have moved
on and he has made notable contributions to such
diverse fields as the theory of economic policy,
development planning, and income distribution.
Tinbergen's political and pacifist views have always
been an important element in his economics, and
even, as this interview shows, his econometrics. His
overriding aim has been to improve the welfare of
the less fortunate in this world.
It is now 60 years since Tinbergen's first article in
economics appeared, yet he shows no signs of
retiring. We met him on May 27, 1986, in the study
of his house in The Hague, where he has lived for
most of his working life and which bears the
hallmarks of continued study and writing. Most of
the discussion during the afternoon concerned his
econometric work published in the 1930s and 1940s.
He gave us his views of those early
developments—both what he thought then and how he
sees them now. What follows is an edited transcript
of the conversation. We hope that this interview
will bring alive to the readers of the 1980s the
issues and difficulties faced by econometricians in
the 1930s, as well as Tinbergen's characteristic
response to those problems. One of Tinbergen's
attributes is a considerable modesty about his own
achievements; the reader should bear this in mind
when reading his remarks.