Thomas Cool, Case of professional ethics
(See also the Dutch page.)
I've worked at the Dutch Central Planning Bureau
(CPB) in the 1982-1991 period - and, for your understanding, the CPB is
the Dutch counterpart to the US Council of Economic Advisors. Some fundamental
insights had been developed at that bureau, notably by colleagues Van
Schaaijk and Bakhoven, but these notions had no consequences on official
publications. In 1989 I was involved in the CPB study "Netherlands in triplo"
and "Scanning the future" (published in 1992), and in 1989 the Berlin Wall
fell. It was obvious that continued unemployment in Western Europe would
be detrimental to economic recovery in the East, and this suddenly made
unemployment much more important than it had been before. So in November
1989 I wrote an internal memo proposing various economic reforms that might
be considered as research projects not only for the final version of the
long run study but also for the medium run. Since then the CPB directorate
has actively blocked internal discussion and eventual publication of the
analysis. Since this is a breach of the scientific code, I have advised
Dutch parliament to investigate the situation. A small commission of Dutch
scientists already concluded that there seems to have been too little room
for discussion, and that the CPB directorate acted as judges in their own
case. Since nobody further seems to care about it, it seems, paradoxically,
that only parliament can make a real difference. But I write these lines
also since we may still hope that economic scientists investigate the matter.
See the summary
analysis on unemployment.
The April 1990 decision of the CPB directorate to transfer me to a room
apart and to relieve me of my normal duties was killed by the courts in
1993, and it was judged an abuse of power. In 1998, the minister of Economic
Affairs decided to accept that court decision. So I have been set apart
only de facto and not de iure. My request whether there could
not be a more serious investigation of what has happened, has been declined.
Also, the courts have accepted my dismissal up to now, based on my de facto
displacement, and without taking into account the 1998 decision.
Most material on the case is in Dutch. The main
page states that I protest against the abuse against the integrity
of science, and that I ask for your support for an investigation of the
There is now my advice to boycott
Holland till the case is resolved.
In judging these events, please make a distinction between (a) normal government
officials, (b) economists in service of the government, and (c) economic
scientists with a position with the government. Categories (a) and (b)
have rules on hierarchy, and here the phenomenon of "whistleblowing" may
occur. Category (c), which concerns my contract with the goverment., has
the scientific integrity to deal with. Note, here, that there is no conflict
between science and democracy. Though politicians may sometimes be unhappy
with scientific findings and the procedures of the scientific process,
they are better off to regard these as natural phenomena beyond their control
- for otherwise we would no longer have a democracy.
Another point to keep in mind is that a scientist who advises a policy
maker who has to make a decision on short notice, is in another position
than the academic scientist who writes for a journal.
It will also be useful here to recall one of the key aspects of being
a scientist: namely the responsibility to make up one's own mind. The scientist
is in this respect as a judge. He or she has to balance all pro's and contra's,
to review theories and facts, to replay all opinions of the colleagues,
and then make a decision as to what he or she believes is the right thing
to decide. To let one's opinion to be swayed by the opinions of others
Paper on prediction theory
What may also help you to understand the issue, see my paper on Metaprognostica.
Reaction of the profession
Up to now, the reaction of the economics profession is, basically, absent.
Some examples are:
Letter to S. van Wijnbergen,
programme committee of the annual congres of the European Economic Association,
January 14 1996. Note that Van Wijnbergen recently was the secretary general
of the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, and thus was responsible for
the juridical position of the Ministry. But he didn't do anything about
this. (And he curiously had to resign himself because a weak minister didn't
allow him freedom of speech.)
There was a Review Committee of the CPB in 1997, headed by
professor A. Barten. The committee decided that my case was 'old', even
though some of the issues are still in court ! See the exchange
There is a second Review Committee of the CPB in 2003, headed
by professor K. Zimmermann, see here.
There is a certain element of collusion in Dutch economics. The country
is small, the community of economists involved in economic policy making
and advising is very small, but the interests remain large. The former
CPB director who fired me, G.
Zalm, is minister of finance in 1994-2001. If you want an example of
collusion and lying in economics, see the articles by G. Zalm, "The relevance
of economic modelling for policy decisions", and F.
den Butter and M. Morgan, "What makes the models-policy interaction
successful ?", in the journal "Economic Modelling" 15 (1998). (I leave
it as an exercise for you to find the cheats.)
On the hopeful side: There are statements by G.
den Broeder and R.
The commission of scientists,
referred to above, was of the Dutch sociologists & anthropologists
association, NVMC, of which I am a member too - so they were no economists.
I have mixed feelings about this letter to the Dutch working
group on Social Choice Theory. There are some signs that my work is
being taken serious, but, then again, there are also signs that it is not.
The jury is still out.
is a Net Conscience Page, version 1998-02-10, by Thomas