Johannes Spinnewijn: "I don't want to be an economist with a tunnel vision"
His surname probably rings a bell among many ex-students in Economics from the University of Louvain; mostly because Johannes Spinnewijn’s father Frans Spinnewijn is a retired professor in Econometrics at the university. Like his father, Johannes has a passion for the theory of economics, and at almost thirty, he has an impressive academic track record to show it. After graduating in Economics at the University of Leuven and the French speaking ULB in Brussels, he set off to the US and received his doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology MIT. Since 2009 he has worked as a lecturer and researcher at the renowned London School of Economics LSE, which also welcomed recently the retired professor Paul De Grauwe within its ranks earlier this year. Spinnewijn’s position as economist of the public service at LSE sees him focus on efficient public socio-economic and tax policies. Following the first phase of his research work, which concentrated on the job market, Spinnewijn prepared a remarkable commentary last month. In it he questions the popular notion of limiting unemployment benefits during this time of economic crisis, calling instead for a behavioural change among job seekers with intensive guidance to finding a job. Spinnewijn, who calls himself a micro-economist, has expanded his research to include other aspects of social security and behavioural economics. With this relatively uncharted terrain, he hopes to integrate less rational human behaviour within more realistic economic models. Before his doctorate, his letters of recommendation opened doors at Stanford, Princeton, Harvard and MIT. He eventually opted for MIT, where his lecturers were among the world’s top. His chief mentor during his doctoral studies was Bengt Holmström, possibly a future Nobel Prize winner. His studies also included close collaboration with Ivan Werning and he worked together with the famous American public economist Jonathan Gruber and Nobel Prize winner Peter Diamond, who has nothing but praise for his ex-student. In his role as public economist, Spinnewijn is also associated with the British Institute for Fiscal Studies IFS, an independent economic thinktank which analyses British government policy. “I became a member of the IFS to lift me out of my comfort zone. I often feel I am too inclined towards theory and academic papers. I don’t want to fall in the category of pure academic researchers. I dream of seeing my research turned into policies.”