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Far ahead of his time

Far ahead of his time

Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts/Simone Golob

Gerard Pfann inspired by Joop Hartog

Just like Jan Tinbergen was the founder of Econometrics, it was Joop Hartog who was at the basis of Labour Economics in the Netherlands. Professor Gerard Pfann (54) can still imagine him as he was then. "Sandals, long beard, and a tiny pencil in his hand to note everything down. Hartog did not act as an authority in the traditional sense. He was more like an antihero, in the sense that he never made assumptions because of his knowledge and expertise. When he returned from a congress to which he had been invited as a speaker, he would refer to it as having 'laid another egg'. He has retired now, but still supervises PhD students. He is coming to Maastricht tomorrow as a member of a graduation committee. I look forward to meeting him again."

Hartog (1946, Sliedrecht) started out as a professor of Microeconomics at the UvA in 1981. Pfann studied Econometrics and became interested in the new field of Labour Economics. "Also because I was from Tuindorp Oostzaan and knew many fathers who were sitting at home unemployed. In 1982, I became a student assistant and ended up in 'Joop’s class', together with ten other students, including Coen Teulings [former director of CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis], Wim Groot [UM professor of Health Economics], and Hessel Oosterbeek, now a professor of Economics at the UvA."

What Pfann learned from Hartog, was not to underestimate the importance of a good data set. "Joop had found a unique set of thousands of sixth-year pupils in the nineteen-fifties, from North Brabant, with a wealth of information on their school results, socioeconomic background, you name it. He later visited and interviewed all those people about the rest of their education and careers. I graduated on the same data, with research about the importance of a pre-university education diploma for a later career. It was my first international publication. Joop believed that it was important to publish in foreign journals. He was a researcher who was far ahead of his time."

Later Pfann himself was also able to put his hand on an equally extraordinary data set: the personnel details from the Fokker company after its bankruptcy in 1996. In the spirit of Hartog, I went to a lot of trouble and eventually received the data, having been given permission from the responsible minister at the time, Hans Wijers. I wanted to know what happened when such a large enterprise went belly up and what the employees really lose. Half of the employees appeared to have been underpaid, by the way, and were much better off in their new jobs. You had to see it as an honour to be allowed to work for a company like Fokker."

‘Joop’s class’, which occasionally met at Hartog’s home, didn’t just deal with research and Economics. "We also talked about art and literature. For my graduation, Joop gave me the book Childhood by Jona Oberski as a gift. It is about a Jewish boy who grew up in Amsterdam during the Second World War."

This is a series in which researchers talk about the person who inspired them most

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