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Rationalization and the “Engineer-Economists” in the Netherlands, 1920–1940

Including a Symposium on Mary Morgan: Curiosity, Imagination, and Surprise

ISBN: 978-1-78756-424-4, eISBN: 978-1-78756-423-7

Publication date: 24 October 2018


During the interwar period, the Netherlands experienced a phase of rapid industrialization and mechanization and saw the introduction of many new labor-saving techniques on the shop floor. This process, which went under the name “rationalization of production,” caused great concern in the labor movement and sparked an intensive debate over the existence and extent of technological (or permanent) unemployment. Although the problem of technological unemployment was denied by the mainstream economists of the day, the problem was addressed by left-wing, mathematically trained economists such as Theo van der Waerden and Jan Tinbergen. They sought for rigorous “scientific” arguments that would convince policymakers, colleagues, and the public of socialist employment policies.

This chapter shows that van der Waerden and Tinbergen used ever-increasing formal methods to face the issue of rationalization, which became politically relevant and controversial in the specific context of the interwar period. Their new scientific tools gave them esteem and influence. In their role as advisers to the government, they gained influence and were able to recommend policies that were in accordance with their political beliefs.



Rodenburg, P. (2018), "Rationalization and the “Engineer-Economists” in the Netherlands, 1920–1940", Including a Symposium on Mary Morgan: Curiosity, Imagination, and Surprise (Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology, Vol. 36B), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 41-57.



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