To the Review Committee CPB
Chairman prof. dr. A. Barten
c/o drs E.A. Oskam, SER
PO Box 90405
2509 LK Den Haag
The Netherlands

 

August 7 1997

 

Dear Committee,

 

Introduction

 

I wrote to you on April 16 1997, we spoke each other on April 23rd, and you reacted on April 25th. Since your reaction is brief, I may as well restate it here:

"The CPB review committee reflected on your complaint put before the committee on 23 April 1997. It observes that you are pursuing your case through the appropriate judicial channels. The committee is of the opinion that is [sic] does not fall within its mandate to consider the merits of [y]our case."
As I have said in the interview, I was at the time of our meeting not familiar with your mandate. Your secretary was so kind to send me a copy of "Scanning CPB. A view from the inside." I also read your first impressions of the Review, as published by the EZ journal, i.e. the journal of the Ministry of Economic Affairs (May 3 1997). I understand that you will give your final report in September.

The court gave a ruling that reached me in the second week of June (enclosed). I have been extremely busy in the period since then, and find time to send it to you with my reaction, that might better suit your mandate, only now.

Also, in line with the Dutch parliamentary elections in 1998, the political party of De Groenen (the Greens) have taken interest in my economic analysis, and asked the CPB for a quantative result. A CPB report was finalised this June. I include a copy, since you can observe that the CPB result suffers greatly from lack of scientific discussion.

 

Your mandate and my case

 

That part of your mandate that is relevant for my case, is covered by the questions on page 21 of "Scanning CPB". In particular:

2. Which bottlenecks hamper the current and future functioning of CPB ? How should CPB deal with these ?

3. What recommendations can the Committee offer for the internal organization and procedures, the positioning of CPB on the market for applied economic research and personnel policy of CPB ?

4. How does the Committee assess the way CPB deals with the trade-off between the task to deliver scientifically sound analyses and the need to arrive at results that are relevant to policy making ? How does the Committee assess CPB’s tools in this respect ?

See also question 5, that refers to, for example, point 3 on page 19, that mentions publication for outsiders.

I think that you would agree that a proper scientific position of CPB researchers would be a vital ingredient to the tasks outlined. There must also be safeguards against infringement on science, and procedures need to be beneficial to scientific processes and conduct.

What the CPB suggests would be a ‘trade-off’ of course is no trade-off. Science is only science if it is science, and policy can only benefit from science, which it apparently wants to, if it accepts the consequences. Otherwise the supposed science is only some disguise. The only point is that a scientist has to give a timely reaction, i.e. does not concentrate on academic doubt.

A proper scientific position however cannot be established while the CPB has no scientific base.

 

A reaction to your letter of the 25th

 

On the basis of the CPB questions above, I do not agree with your impression that your mandate does not cover my case. So I kindly ask you to reconsider your view.

I agree with many favourable points that you noted about the CPB. It is a great place to be at in many respects, and I would like to be re-instated indeed. However, you should also acknowledge the pressures that might goad you into a less independent and critical analysis.

I note that you have not used available time and finance as an argument. Is it really true that this has not been part of your hesitation ?

Perhaps you might benefit from the recent AER issue with the discussion on the American CEA. It is mentioned that it has been beneficial that CEA members serve only fixed terms. The Dutch CPB has terms till retirement. It is just a small point, though. My analysis is that both institutes are seriously flawed. The AER issues for example does not sufficiently cover the points made by Krugman in "Peddling Prosperity".

I mentioned before that the pitfalls in judging my case abound. You have not avoided these yet.

That you consider the judicial channels to be appropriate, is somewhat a novelty. In one case, I only ask to be allowed to present my analysis to my colleagues, as part of process intended to result in a publication. In general, scientists take this freedom for granted. I am rather mystified that you consider it appropriate that a scientific discussion can be blocked, for more than 7 years now.

Also, a court ruling in May 1995 made my dismissal final. I have explained that this has been a mistrial, or alternatively that the judicial saveguards for CPB employees are too weak. The court has not heard any other witnesses than my superiors, has not investigated the situation, and has decided on the issue while other relevant aspects were still under consideration by the lower court.

Though there are many more pitfalls, you ought to understand at least one pitfall here. If I were to ask colleagues to come to testify, then this might harm their position. Also, it might seem as they would be witnesses for me, while I only intend that they are witnesses of the situation. So the only proper approach is that the judge investigates the matter actively. However, Dutch law is lax on that. Another point is that my financial position is weak, and that I cannot afford the many lawyers that would be needed for a proper defence against the abuse by the state attorney.

Clearly your mandate does not cover a review of the Dutch judicial system. However, in this case you are in the position to record and to report that it is not proper, in a dismissal of a scientist who has explained that the integrity of science is being violated, that no such investigation has taken place.

Let me imply again that it is not wise that professor Den Butter still is a member of your committee. Take for example his joke about colleagues ‘lining up in the corridor’. I happily have a good sense of humour, and you will have noticed that I laughed at that time. But, please note too, that I laughed for a different reason. I laughed because of my sense of humour. Den Butter laughed, and made the joke in the first place, because of his downgrading of the situation and because of his fallacy of neglecting the evidence and taking absolute numbers instead of percentages.

 

The court’s verdict on the publication process

 

I earlier presented you the report by the committee for scientific integrity of the NVMC. That committee concluded that there seems to have been too little room for discussion, and that the CPB Directorate would have acted wiser to have others judge on the matter, since now they may be under suspicion of being judges in their own case.

Before the court, I explained that the proper scientific process is to allow an internal discussion with the colleagues, before a final version is drafted that is judged for publication. In this case, this would be even more appropriate, since the paper also discusses CPB itself. I also stated that I was willing to consider comments by a Public Relations department. I have given the court the NVMC report, and asked the court to invite some more scientists as witnesses of general procedure.

The court was willling to listen to one external scientist, drs. G. den Broeder. However, the court neglects the NVMC report, did not invite other scientists of their own choice, and rather flatly states that the CPB Directorate has the right to deny a publication.

So the situation is that I ask for a publication (process), that the Directorate decides not to publish, and that the court upholds the right to deny a publication.

It may be that the Directorate and the courts decide about other issues than the one that I asked for.

It may also be that the court has made some other wrong assumption somewhere. For example, the court makes much use of the fact that the members of the CPB Directorate have professorial teaching positions, and that professors in economics have decided that the paper has not sufficient quality for publication. On this issue, the court neglects the fact that these professional teaching positions have been granted by external universities, and that the decision not to publish (or better the decision to deny a publication process) was made in the position of CPB Directorate, which is not a scientific position per se.

In particular: had the CPB Directorate sent the draft paper to external scientists, and received a negative decision in return, and based its own decision on that external report, then everybody would have considered it a bit strange, if those external scientists were in fact they themselves. This is precisely the NVMC point, of being judges in their own case.

The court also neglects that other work of mine has been systematically blocked from discussion and publication, e.g. my analysis on Arrow’s theorem.

I also include a letter by professor Lans Bovenberg. This letter arrived too late to submit it to the court. Bovenberg was not involved in the issue before his recent appointment at the CPB. I had expected him to be critical of the situation, and at least wanting to investigate it. However, he so much trusts his colleagues that he simply sides with them. But it is not simply trust alone, since Bovenberg also misrepresents my point of the internal discussion phase, and he says that publication was denied on grounds of quality. Hence, both Zalm and Den Hartog are no longer at the Bureau, and Don was only partly involved at the time, but the newcomers loyally uphold their error and misrepresentation.

Apparently, indeed, the Dutch court has not sufficient insight and respect for science, and it would be proper if you would show them better.

 

The court’s verdict on my influence on the dismissal

 

In a second verdict the court decides that I have caused my own dismissal, and therefor cannot be granted a proper unemployment benefit.

This means that I am degraded as a person and scientist. While I am an honest, hard working scientist and a good team member, I am now depicted in quite horrible terms.

This court decision is taken, again, without an investigation of the situation and the hearing of colleagues. I had invited some acquaintances as character witnesses, and the court was willing to hear them. However, the court was not willing to call the colleagues that mattered for the situation.

Also, the lower court is still involved on the issue of my official record of conduct, made up in january 1990 but killed in the court of May 1995, and the issue why I was moved out of my normal office in April 1990, which was killed in court in 1993. So the high court has decided while main ingredients are still to be judged. (Note that it is likely that the lower courts will take the higher premature judgement as their guideline.)

I consider it useful to give you a copy of some correspondence about my removal out of my office in April 1990. The Ministry of Economic Affairs acknowledges that the court killed that decision in 1993, and states that it now accepts that, legally, I was not put apart. Further, the Ministry has no opinion or does not take action. So the Ministry fully neglects (a) that my dismissal was caused by the fact that the Directorate had no longer employment for a person in a room apart, (b) that it is a very grave issue to remove someone, (c) that I ask for an explanation and investigation, and have offered proof and testimony that my immediate superior has lied here and has tried to force me to cancel my earlier appeal (e.g. about the record of conduct of January 1990).

Please note also that the Ministry uses all kinds of legalistic arguments to sidetrack the issue, instead of setting up an investigation.

Please note, too, as the crucial issue, that the Directorate used a line in the law to remove me, which line does allow the state to move personnel in general without need of specific explanation, and that a proper explanation thus has been side-tracked from the beginning. I have been removed without the judicial possibility to defend myself, from the beginning.

I hope that your committee will observe duely, that a scientist, normally, cannot work properly, if he is in danger of such treatment (and, normally, if he suffers it; normally, for I might be an exception).

Also, as I was removed from the study "Netherlands in Triplo" (mentioned on page 15 of "Scanning CPB"), that study suffers some serious defects (for example, there is no minority report), and any defective study should at least be called back from the market.

I consider it useful to include a statement on my personal conduct (‘indication of potentials’) of May 3 1996 by another superior, of the Adviesdienst Verkeer en Vervoer (Transport Research Center) of the Ministry of Transport, where I worked from November 1995 till June 1997 (I am now employed elsewhere). The 1996 report has no real evidence value for my 1982-1991 CPB period, though I, and likely former colleagues, can judge that it is to the point, if you also include the notion that my Transport Research Center job was not a scientific one.

You can verify my statements by doing the investigation on my professional conduct yourself.

 

The CPB report for De Groenen

 

The CPB mis-states my analysis on the dynamic marginal tax rate. It thereby overstates the issues of fraud and other incentives. My economic analysis, including a new summary, is available on the world wide web at http://www.can.nl/~cool.

 

On "Scanning CPB"

 

It would be quite a task to properly separate the correct statements and the misguided and misleading ones. I am very busy, also with a new job on September 1, so I will only point to some major issues.

 
 

One law, more purposes

 

The genesis of the CPB (described on page 5) shows that the same law on the CPB has been used for two different purposes. The originator of the law, minister Vos, thought more along the lines of a command economy, while his successor, minister Huysmans, wanted a (smaller) advisory bureau. That the same text of the law can serve two such very different purposes, testifies of political flexibility, but also causes instability and unreliability concerning any claim of the scientific status of the Bureau.

The minister of Economic Affairs has executive power on matters of the Bureau, and the civil servants working there only have the options of ‘compliance, voice or exit’. Since voice and exit will come with huge personal costs, compliance is the most likely outcome. Equilibrium will be at a point where the civil servant researchers are more compliant than scientific researchers would be.

 

The name of the Bureau

 

Page 5 suggests that the name of "Central Planning Bureau" is not fitting to the Bureau, and indeed the CPB Directorate already uses the name "CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis". However, the work that the CPB does can still be regarded as ‘central planning’. It is not planning in the sense of a command economy, but it is indicative planning. It is central, since it concerns the whole economy and some sector only.

Psychologically, it is easy to draw attention to a name and a name only, and to draw attention away from the real problem.

 

The ‘mission’ statement

 

Page 6 states:

"CPB’s mission, as formulated by the Bureau in 1989, is..... to undertake independent economic forecasts and analyses that are up-to-date, scientifically sound and relevant for policymaking - for government, parliament, and other interested parties, including political parties and industry."
As I earlier explained, this mission statement has no basis in the law, and neither in practice. The so-called independence and scientific base of the CPB and its work are only claims by its recent Directorate, and are not warranted in reality.

I have also forecasted that the Directorate would use its 1989 claim by way of proof, to show that ‘the Bureau has been independent and scientific for a long time’. This forecast has now come true.

 
 

Annex 3 in general

 

Page 5 refers to Annex 3:

"Annex 3 contains the protocol for CPB and three other Dutch government agencies with a so-called ‘planning bureau’ function. This protocol, which is endorsed by the Dutch cabinet, defines the rule of the game for the Bureaus concerned."
That Annex 3 turns out to be quite misleading.

 

Annex 3 on substantive independence

 

Annex 3 says:

"Substantive independence:
The substantive and scientific independence has been laid down in regulations and is also guaranteed by providing for consultative councils comprising a large cross section of members who advise the managements of various institutes, and by the public nature of research reports and studies."
However, this should read as:
"Substantive independence:
The substantive and scientific independence, as far as present, has been laid down in regulations and, in so far as it occurs, is also guaranteed by providing for consultative councils comprising a large cross section of members who advise the managements of various institutes, and by the public nature of research reports and studies."
Notably, when one regards the actual regulations, it appears that there is only limited substantive and scientific independence.

For example, the Social and Cultural Planning Office has to submit its work programme to the Cabinet. Similarly, the major publication of this Office has to be approved in Cabinet first. Similarly, the Central Economic Plan is determined by the Cabinet, and the CPB here has only an advisory role. That the Plan is published by the CPB can only happen, since the CPB is part of the executive branch.

 
 

Tinbergen

 

I highly admire Tinbergen and regard him as a leading example. It is only fitting that the CPB still mentions him, on page 8. However, what is said there is misleading. Tinbergen told me that in retrospect he should on occasion have been more strict and less compliant to policy influence.

 

Box 1

 

Box 1 on page 11 does not cite my "Trias Politica & Centraal Planbureau" (1994). Taking three quotes of Harry van Dalen and two of Bomhoff/Nyenrode, that all are off the mark, is irresponsibly selective.

 
 

Relevant strategic policy options

 

My strategic policy option is to have a parliamentary enquiry, and a constitutional amendment (see my home site for a 1996 draft text). This option is not mentioned on page 13, basically since the discussion about it has been blocked.

Linking these strategic policy options to the scenario’s of Scanning the Future is weird, nonsensical alchemy and not scientifically warranted.

 

Overall

 

Chapters 2 - 4 are misleading in general. They simply neglect the problems that I have discussed in these pages, and put more emphasis on ‘independence’ rather than ‘science’ (that already is independent). I have detected other points in the other chapters too.

 

Concluding

 

I can only hope that you are wise enough to listen to my testimony and give it unbiased attention, though my hope is not so great, given your first reaction. Please don’t fail.

 

Kind regards,

 
Thomas Cool

http://www.can.nl/~cool.