How do you explain to others what your doctoral research was all about?
“I’ll tell people that I conducted research on the intended and unintended consequences of labour market policies, such as wage subsidies and training courses. Some policies have completely the opposite effect from what was intended – for instance, people being fired as soon as the company stops receiving a wage subsidy. Also, attending a training course may be quite stigmatising, and some people stop trying to find a job once they are given unemployment benefits. There are positive consequences, as well. For instance, people will learn new skills and get used to a proper work rhythm. These are known consequences, but little research had been conducted on the circumstances in which certain effects are observed. For this reason, I conducted research in several countries that have different labour market policies, ranging from liberal to social-democratic. For instance, England and other Anglophone countries have policies focusing on keeping unemployment benefits low and making dismissal procedures easy. Scandinavian countries, like the Netherlands, provide more generous unemployment benefits.”
What was the main conclusion you drew in your dissertation?
“Policies are not implemented in a vacuum, but rather in an institutional context of legislation and other policies. These factors also affect the effectiveness of activating labour market policies, which means that a labour market project that is successful in Denmark will not necessarily be successful in another country, such as the Netherlands or France.
“In addition, the effects may exceed the boundaries of socio-economic policy. Health and culture play their parts, as well. The main thing is that we must utilise evidence-based policies, rather than logic born from ideology. With ideologies, you run the risk of things having the opposite effect from what you were intending. For that reason, it’s a good idea to run a pilot study first. For instance, there are several ways to bring about a more inclusive job market.”
Is it hard to conduct research on a highly politically contentious subject?
“If you wish to remain neutral, you are forced to include all sides of the debate in your analysis. I try to immerse myself in all sides, then create a synthesis. I make a point of not levelling harsh criticism at anyone or anything. My research is about nuances, not about one-liners. Politicians decide who gets to pay. It’s my job to provide information, and I hope my work will inspire people to reflect on the subject and conduct further research.”
Did you experience any lows while conducting your doctoral research?
“No, I can’t say I did. I’m a very pragmatic person, so if something isn’t working, I simply toss it into the bin. For instance, I would have liked to include more information on employers, but not much data was available on the subject, so it would have become too complex. In cases like that, you can either mope and make a fuss about it for a while, or you can move on and focus on a different idea, and I generally have plenty of ideas. By now I do have a love-hate relationship with the book, though. The four empirical research chapters have all been published, so they’ve been reviewed so extensively that I can’t stand them anymore.”
What is on the cover?
“Basically, it’s a seesaw. I found it on a website on which graphic designers offer their work to others. Active labour market policy is often described as a springboard, while unemployment benefits and things like that are often referred to as a safety net. So I felt this would fit right in, metaphor-wise. You can’t tell whether it will make a proper landing or crash into the ground once it has reached his zenith.”
The final proposition you submitted along with your thesis read, ‘It is not the beard on the outside that matters, but the beard on the inside.’ Please tell us more about that.
“One of the things that’s characteristic of me is my beard, combined with my bald head. So I had to say something about that. There’s an episode of Dexter’s Laboratoryin which a superhero called Action Hank does all sorts of things with his beard. Dexter then creates a beard, too, but he feels bad about it, because his beard is fake. Action Hank then says, ‘It is not the beard on the outside that matters. It’s the beard on the inside.’ I loved that quote, and it’s delightfully inclusive.”