I am starting a new interview series on this blog called Meet Top Environmental Economists, #MeetTopEnvEcon. The idea is to introduce some of the most influential economists that have significantly contributed to environmental economics. I am not going to make a difference here between those working on ecological economics, or urban environmental economics, or similar, but I will simply look at all those economists who have spent a significant part of their research agenda on using economic tools to research issues related to the environment.
From this you, the reader, should get away a couple of points: What motivated this researcher to work on this topic? What does (s)he view as the major contributions? Where should the literature go from here? The idea is to introduce these top researchers also from a more personal side, a side that one seldomly gets to know if one only reads their articles. In addition, the references accumulated here will help to develop a smaller living library that should aid researchers.
In terms of contributors there is no particular order, first come first served really. I will not necessarily follow particular rankings, like those from ideas, since for example policy-oriented researchers often have a difficult time to enter those rankings. If you are not happy with the selections, or you would like to see others ranked, let me know!
The first favourite environmental economist is Rick van der Ploeg. I got to know Rick when he taught the macroeconomics course for us MSc Economics students at the London School of Economics in early 2003. This was a really enjoyable course: while he was sticking to the textbook, at the same time his mind was racing ahead and he provided us with anecdotes about his time as a politician, about when economics matters for public finance and education, and he always helped us to see where exactly the elephant in the room was standing. Rick is someone who knows the theory by heart and has enough experience in the public sector to actually know where it matters. His recent work is mostly about optimal carbon taxes, the green paradox, and the optimal switch from non-renewable to renewable resources.
Rick van der Ploeg
He is a research fellow in international macroeconomics at the Centre for Economic Policy Research. He directs the public sector economics programme, and is Chair of the Scientific Council of CESifo.
He is former Chief Financial Spokesperson in the Dutch Parliament, State Secretary of Education, Science and Culture of the Netherlands and Elected Member of the Unesco World Heritage Committee, and has been on the board of various commercial and non-profit organisations. Previous academic experience includes Cambridge, LSE, Tilburg and Amsterdam.
He has published extensively on macroeconomics, public finance, political economy and resource economics, and also has an interest in the economics of culture. Publications include Foundations of Modern Macroeconomics with B.J. Heijdra (OUP, 2002), the edited Handbook of International Macroeconomics, and several other books.
#MeetTopEnvEcon – Rick van der Ploeg
- Could you please give me a brief background of yourself and your main research interests.
I was trained first as a mathematical physicist, then engineering with an interest in evolutionary biology when I studied in Sussex near the lovely beach city of Brighton. I then did an engineering PhD at King’s College, but moved at the encouragement of the amazing gentlemen economists James Meade and Richard Stone to work in the Department of Applied Economics. David Newbery became my secondary supervisor, a great applied economist. My research has then focused on the interface of public finance and (international) macro. After an eight year spell in politics, I focused at climate and resource economics.
- What article/book of yours would you call your best?
My first article in JRSS Series A (1981) was on inaccuracy of national accounts data and what to do about it. Inspired by Richard Stone, it made me realise how important it is to be aware of the reliability of the data we use. I suppose my papers with Lans Bovenberg in the early nineties on the double dividend hypothesis have had some traction in policy and academic circles.
- Would you mind giving a list of essential articles that a young researcher in your line of research should read?
The Three Essays of Tjalling Koopmans. Hayek’s The Fatal Conceit of Socialism. The novels Changing Places and A Small World by David Lodge. The book on how to take the con out of econometrics by Angrist and Pischke. And yes lots of important papers, not necessarily in environmental economics. But for example the fishing experiment paper by Stoop, Noussair and van Soest in the JPE is excellent.
- And could you be so kind and give a reference for a policy-oriented article or book that sums the research in your field for an interested policy maker?
See my VOXEU articles on climate tipping with Aart de Zeeuw, on simple rules for the global carbon tax with Armon Rezai, and on managing resource wealth and SWFs with Sam Wills.
- In what direction would you like to see environmental economics develop? What would be the obstacles?
Especially in Europe we need much, much more decent applied work with innovative identification strategies and innovative micro bottom-up and experimental data sets.
- If you had to give young researchers in environmental economics some advice, what would it be?
Read newspapers, the Economist and talk to passionate people in the real world and get your idea from there, not from putting an extra bell and whistle on an existing theory.
- How do you mostly get your ideas?
See 6 and in the bath doing nothing but wrestling in my own head. Very sad, alas.
- Which impact would you say does your research have on policy making?
There has been a bit of an influence on policy making related to managing resource wealth in developing countries, especially the idea of investing to invest to overcome absorption constraints.
- And now for a bit of fun. Do you know the concept of holidays or do you take your papers to the beach?
Both. I love theatre, so London suits me fine. I do love islands and sailing too.
- What is your favourite economics joke or anecdote from a conference?
I remember a conference in Beijing long ago, where during a session the overhead projector went on fire. There are too many jokes. I am no expert, I fear.
- Please feel free to suggest someone else whose answers you would like to see.
Nice interview, and nice initiative, Ingmar. I will be following this series closely! Best, Hernán
Thanks Hernán! Since I am just starting this any comments or suggestions are warmly welcome.
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