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On Tjalling C. Koopmans

Tjalling Charles Koopmans was a pioneer in the development of mathematical economics and econometrics.  He won a '75 Nobel Honor in Economics, together with the Russian economist Leonid Kantorovich.

Koopmans was born in ‘s Graveland, the Netherlands. He received his M.A. degree in mathematics and physics from the University of Utrecht in 1933. He switched interests to economics and received his doctorate in the field from the University of Leiden in 1936. He was a lecturer at the Netherlands School of Economics. In 1938 he succeeded Jan Tinbergen at the League of Nations in Geneva. In 1940 he went to the United States. Tjalling C. Koopmans

During World War II, he worked as a research associate at Princeton University and as lecturer at New York University, as well as for the British Merchant Shipping Mission in Washington which wanted him to redesign merchant shipping schedules to lessen Britain’s catastrophic losses to German submarines and to minimize economic costs. At that job he tried to solve the practical problem of how to reorganize shipping to minimize transportation costs. The problem was complex: the variables included thousands of merchant ships, millions of tons of cargo, and hundreds of ports. The technique he developed was called "activity analysis" and is now called linear programming. His techniques were very similar to those used by Kantorovich, whose work he discovered only much later. For Koopmans it was the beginning of his interest in mathematical economics and theory that became the focus of his career. He generalized, like Kantorovich, his approach from one sector of the economy to the economy as a whole. He showed the conditions required for economy-wide efficiency in allocating resources.

Koopmans was a research associate at the University of Chicago from 1944 on. He became professor of economics at Yale University in 1955, and stayed there until he retired in 1981. He became Yale's first Alfred Cowles Professor of Economics when the chair was endowed in 1967. He also served from 1960 to 1961 as Frank W. Taussig Professor of Economics at Harvard University, and, from 1961 to 1967, as director of the Cowles Foundation. Koopmans became an American citizen in 1946. He served as president of the American Economic Association in 1981.

In the 1940s, Koopmans became involved in a Methodenstreit with the American Institutionalists  over their "measurement without theory" approach to empirical research. In the 1950’s he was involved in the Socialist Calculation debate.

He died in 1985 at the age of 74.


His most important publications:

Koopmans autobiography:

A more elaborate biography by Herbert E. Scarf: