Entangled Economists

Ragnar Frisch and Jan Tinbergen


  • Erwin Dekker Erasmus University Rotterdam




It is 50 years since the first Nobel Prize in economics was awarded to Jan Tinbergen and Ragnar Frisch. This article analyzes the collaborations between these pioneers of econometrics which spanned four decades and various subfields in economics, based on records of their correspondence. It is demonstrated that, while Frisch was largely responsible for theoretical breakthroughs, Tinbergen was responsible for making them public and popularizing them. This is especially relevant for understanding the development of econometric models in the 1950s, decision models of the 1950s, and subsequent work on utility measurement. This division of labor is analyzed in relation to the goals they pursued in their research and their respective perfectionistic (Frisch) and pragmatic (Tinbergen) approaches to economic science. Both men shared a sense of deep social responsibility, but differences in their personalities and approaches to science generated important differences in scientific recognition and policy influence. Although they are both widely remembered for helping to turn economics into a quantitative empirical science, this article shows that they were motivated by separate personal and political goals which shaped their scientific approaches.

Author Biography

Erwin Dekker, Erasmus University Rotterdam

Erwin Dekker (1984) is a post-doctoral researcher at the Erasmus School of Economics, and has been a post-doctoral fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. He is currently finishing the intellectual biography of Jan Tinbergen, the first Nobel Prize winner in Economics; the biography An Economist Looking for Peace will be published in 2020 by Cambridge University Press. His book The Viennese Students of Civilization (2016) on the cultural context of the Austrian school of economics was published by Cambridge University Press. His research focuses on the intersection of art, culture and economics. He has published articles in the fields of cultural economics, Austrian economics, economic methodology and intellectual history. He is currently working on a book project about the way in which knowledge commons sustain and facilitate markets.




How to Cite

Dekker, E. (2020). Entangled Economists: Ragnar Frisch and Jan Tinbergen. Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics, 12(2), 65–85. https://doi.org/10.23941/ejpe.v12i2.451



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