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European Peace Science Conference | NEPS and the ISS Celebrate Jan Tinbergen with a Home Run by S. Mansoob Murshed

In less than two weeks from today, the ISS will host the 19th Jan Tinbergen European Peace Science Conference, which will witness the presentation of nearly a hundred papers in quantitative conflict studies. But who was Jan Tinbergen, and why was a whole conference named after him? In the first article of our series, Mansoob Murshed sheds light on these questions.

The year 2019 marks fifty years since the Nobel Prize for Economics was instituted. The first award went to the two founding fathers of econometrics (techniques applied to empirical data to test theoretical hypotheses) namely the Dutch economist Jan Tinbergen and the Norwegian economist Ragnar Frisch. This year also happens to be a quarter of a century since the passing of Jan Tinbergen. Between 24th and 26th June, the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) of the Erasmus University of Rotterdam (EUR) will host the 19th Jan Tinbergen European Peace Science Conference, also known as the Network of European Peace Science (NEPS) conference.

It is fitting that the Institute does so for a number of reasons. Jan Tinbergen was a founding member of the Economists for Peace and Security, and perhaps the society’s most distinguished doyen on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. Although it is well known that Professor Tinbergen enjoyed a long tenure at the Erasmus School of Economics, what is less known is that the ISS awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1962. Jan Tinbergen was a founding member of the Economists for Peace and Security. He was, incidentally, also one of the founding members of the Econometric Society back in the 1930s. Unsurprising, as he was one of the progenitors of this particular art.

Underpinning all of Tinbergen’s contributions to Economics is his desire for the usefulness of research. The extent of inequality in society during his youth in the 1920s (as is once again the case with a vengeance), as well as his first-hand experience of poverty in Leiden caused him to abandon a potentially brilliant career as a Physicist to become an Economist; Physics’ loss was Economics’ gain. He, however, brought over extensive intellectual arbitrage from Physics (and Mathematics) into Economics. Many others shared his passion for measurement, but he went to systematize it by inventing econometrics, a statistical tool that enables the testing of economic theories, and he preferred theory to be mathematical.

As such, he devised the first empirical macroeconomic model for an economy, even though the operation of the model was hampered in the case of the Netherlands by the paucity of data (unlike in the UK or USA). The 1930s was an era plagued by the scourge of mass unemployment in the industrialized world, just as nowadays the immiserisation of many at work afflicts most societies (a phenomenon otherwise known as precarious employment). Tinbergen was invited by the League of Nations to work on business cycles, because these cyclical swings were the major cause of unemployment.

At one time, Tinbergen was also the leading advisor to the League’s successor, the United Nations, on development policies, which most famously resulted in the benchmark for the quantum of development assistance to be donated by rich nations. (0.7% of national income), although Tinbergen really would have wanted more to go to poorer nations. Even more presciently, Tinbergen favoured world government, as he feared governance at the level of the nation state risked becoming myopic.[1]

Tinbergen managed to connect the inseparable concepts of welfare and security[2], as well as to formulate the notion of global security[3]. Underpinning the notion of world security is yet another inseparability between military (or security) expenditure and development assistance for poorer countries. A degree of convergence in average incomes across nations was required, and to bring that about, military expenditure needed to be curtailed so as to free up more money for aid.

It is worth reiterating Tinbergen’s commitment to the societal relevance of Economics, the need to engage in advisory work, and the overwhelming salience of finding solutions to economic problems, especially poverty and inequality between nations. His style of communication was refreshingly free of our current obsession with memes and soundbites. For all of these reasons, and more besides, it is fitting that this year’s NEPS conference, which will witness the presentation of nearly a hundred papers in quantitative conflict studies, will be held at the ISS, in the Hague, the home town of one of the pioneers of the economics of conflict, who was also one of the most ardent and distinguished champions of disarmament and development assistance.

[1] See Kol, J and P De Wolff (1993), Tinbergen’s Work: Change and Continuity, De Economist, 141.
[2] Tinbergen, J and D Fischer (1987) Warfare and Welfare, New York; St. Martin’s Press.
[3] Tinbergen, J (1990) World Security and Equity, Aldershot: Edward Elgar.

This is the first article in a series related to the 19th Jan Tinbergen European Peace Science Conference that will be hosted by the ISS from June 24th to 26th June 2019. 

Image Credit: Nationaal Archief, Den Haag, Rijksfotoarchief: Fotocollectie Algemeen Nederlands Fotopersbureau (ANEFO) under a CC license. The image was cropped.

best photoAbout the author:

S. Mansoob Murshed is Professor of the Economics of Peace and Conflict at the ISS. His research interests are in the economics of conflict, resource abundance, aid conditionality, political economy, macroeconomics and international economics.