The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics

Jan Tinbergen

In 1969 Dutch economist Jan Tinbergen, along with Norwegian economist Ragnar Frisch, received the first Nobel Prize in economics. He received the award for his work in econometrics and economic measurement. Tinbergen, who earned a Ph.D. in physics, had become interested in economics while working on his dissertation. His 1929 dissertation was titled "Minimum Problems in Physics and Economics." He began to apply mathematical tools to economics, which, at the time, was relatively verbal and nonmathematical. In 1929 he joined a unit of the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics to do research on business cycles. He stayed there until 1945, with a leave of absence from 1936 to 1938 to work for the League of Nations in Geneva.

Along with Frisch and others Tinbergen developed the field of econometrics, the use of statistical tools to test economic hypotheses. Tinbergen was one of the first economists to create multiequation models of economies. He produced a twenty-seven-equation econometric model of the Dutch economy. And in 1939 he published a book, Business Cycles in the United States, 1919-1932, which contained a forty-eight-equation model of the American economy that explained investment activity and modeled American business cycles.

Another of Tinbergen's major contributions was to show that a government with several economic targets—for both the unemployment rate and the inflation rate, for example—must have at least as many policy instruments, such as taxes and monetary policy.

Selected Works

Business Cycles in the United Kingdom, 1870-1914. 1951.

Business Cycles in the United States, 1919-1932. 1939.

On the Theory of Economic Policy. 1952.

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