The first copy of Erwin Dekker’s biography of Jan Tinbergen was presented to Mariëtte Hamer, chair of the Social and Economic Council (SER) and new ‘informateur’ for the House of Representatives. She received the book from the author, in the E building, nest to the bust of Jan Tinbergen (1903-1994), the celebrated Nobel Prize-winning economist from Erasmus University. “A great honour.”
“At least I now have a reason to get my job done quickly, because I obviously want to read this book. I’ll put it on the table where I can see it,” laughs Mariëtte Hamer, soon to be the informateur, when she receives the biography about Tinbergen. A select group is present in the E-building – including Tinbergen’s daughter and grandson – to celebrate the fact that the biography about Jan Tinbergen is finished and will go on sale on Wednesday.
Since 2017, Erwin Dekker had been working on the first biography of Tinbergen, one of the Netherlands’ most important economists and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics. Prior to the presentation, Dekker talked about his work on the terrace of Erasmus Pavilion: “Initially I thought that I would need to know a lot about his private life. But academics who are so involved in their work don’t have an exciting private life.”
For that reason, the biography mainly focuses on Tinbergen’s working life. “This also tells you who he is, because his life was mainly his work.” Dekker describes how Tinbergen was always looking for peace, for example during his time in Turkey. He describes how a visit to India impacted on his work and what Tinbergen did in Indonesia during the War of Independence there.
Dekker, who called himself an ‘economist among historians, and historian among economists’, is associated with the Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication as cultural economist. “I previously did research into the Austrian School of Economics, which experienced its heyday at the same time as Tinbergen. Except Tinbergen’s social approach put him on the other side of the spectrum. Which is why I found this project so interesting.”
Tinbergen had a good relationship with the Royal Family. Dekker is proud of discovering that Tinbergen wrote Queen Juliana’s longest speech which she gave to students in Leiden. “The two had a good relationship. They had both studied in Leiden, where there were many pacifists,” says Dekker. On the inside of the cover of the biography, there is a photo of Juliana presenting a relaxed and smiling Tinbergen with an award.
Dekker also discovered that Tinbergen must have been a man with a great deal of charisma. People saw him as an example. “He inspired people, they talk about him with great respect and see him as a moral guide in his modesty and frugality.”
Tinbergen is a founding father of econometrics and economic modelling. Dekker was also interested to learn that Tinbergen did not actually see the economy of a country as a model or a machine with buttons you could turn to achieve something. “Many people think that. But it’s different.” It should be the striving to build a model, rather than operating it and thus steering the economy. His main aim was a stable economy.
For that reason, peace was important to Tinbergen. “War is one of the greatest threats to the economy. Hence the subtitle: an economist in search of peace. He sought peace at international level, but also at national, social level.”
Social means: between employer and employee. “One of his greatest achievements was that he managed to bring those two together in the Social and Economic Council. As such, the SER symbolises that social peace,” says Dekker during the book presentation. “Based on that symbolism, Ms Hamer, you are the best person to receive the book.”
Hamer is delighted with the biography and the reminder of Tinbergen, whose message still underpins the goals of the SER. She expects to think of the book a lot in the coming period. “I’ve had a few hectic days, as you can imagine. I think that I will often remember the message of peace and connection and the idea of building a bridge in the coming weeks.”