Academic journal article Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics

Learning from the Right Neighbour: An Interview with Jack Vromen

Academic journal article Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics

Learning from the Right Neighbour: An Interview with Jack Vromen

Article excerpt

JACK J. VROMEN (Heerlen, 1958) is professor of theoretical philosophy, with a special emphasis on the philosophy of economics, dean of the philosophy faculty at the Erasmus University Rotterdam, and director (and co-founder) of the Erasmus Institute for Philosophy and Economics (EIPE). He earned master's degrees in economics and in philosophy of economics from the University of Tilburg, and a PhD in economics from the University of Amsterdam under the supervision of Neil De Marchi.

Vromen has a particular research interest in evolutionary thinking and economic methodology. He is the author of Economic evolution: an enquiry into the foundations of 'new institutional economics' (1995), and (co-)editor of numerous anthologies, including Institutions and the evolution of capitalism; implications of evolutionary economics (1999, with John Groenewegen), The social institutions of capitalism: evolution and design of social contracts (2003, with Hans van Oosterhout and Pursey Heugens), and most recently The economics of economists (2014, with Alessandro Lanteri).

EJPE interviewed Jack Vromen about becoming a philosopher of economics, his interest in evolution and its relation to economics, and the role he has played in the formation of EIPE, a major centre for the study of philosophy of economics. In this interview Vromen explains why he believes biology is a discipline much closer to economics than many economists realize, why the concept of evolution is important for understanding economic processes and for the economic discipline, and also why evolutionary economics never became mainstream when many believed that it would.

EJPE: You are an economist by training. How did you end up the dean of a philosophy faculty?

JACK VROMEN: Well, I have to correct you there. I am not just an economist by training, I also did philosophy. In Tilburg University, there was the possibility of doing a double-degree program in philosophy of economics next to your economics degree, which I did. So, I graduated in both. In fact, it was a little bit of a coincidence that I ended up doing my PhD in economics. Back then, it was required to choose a discipline in which your thesis was to be written in, a requirement that has now been dropped. If you look at my thesis, it is a little arbitrary that it ended up being a thesis in the field of economics. I think quite a few economists who read it at the time probably thought: is this really economics? In fact, one of the committee members at my defence asked me this very question. He told me that in a decent economics thesis there should be a model and an empirical test, and in my thesis there was neither a model nor a test. I think my work fell a little bit in between economics and philosophy. I think it probably would have qualified as a thesis in philosophy.

So, you could have also ended up the dean of an economics faculty?

[Vromen laughs] That does not follow. I did my PhD with Neil De Marchi, who was professor in economics in Amsterdam at the time. In those days, Amsterdam had a strong profile in philosophy and economics, starting with Johannes J. Klant, who preceded Mark Blaug's Popperian analysis of economics with his book The rules of the game (1984). The group was led by Mary Morgan, Mark Blaug, and later John Davis. I was part of that group. So, I have been part of an economics faculty, but not as a dean.

Were there any particular thinkers, or texts, that influenced your early interest in philosophy and economics? When, how and why did you become interested in philosophy of economics?

Starting with the last question, I started with doing a bachelor degree in econometrics actually, not in economics. My interest started with the building blocks, just the mathematics and statistics, without any applications. In the beginning I thought it was nice, but after a number of years it became too much for me. So, I switched to economics, which, in a basic sense, was just the lighter variant of econometrics. …

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