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Jan Litjens

Advising the Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy of the Netherlands on a variety of topics ranging from the housing market and covid business support packages to the macroeconomic impact of the Ukrainian war, Jan Litjens, Economic Policy Advisor and MSc in Economics alum, is fascinated by how simple economic models can enact or enable changes in real-world politics.

Describe your role and what it is that you do overall and on a day-to-day basis.

At the moment, I am an Economic Policy Advisor for the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy of the Netherlands. I advise my Minister on a variety of topics ranging from the housing market and covid business support packages to the macroeconomic impact of the Ukrainian war, including related sanctions. On a day-to-day basis this means that I write briefings for my Minister to inform her on developments or to advise her on policy decisions, I write letters to parliament on the final decisions and help prepare her for debates in parliament. All this requires quite a lot of engagement with colleagues within my department and colleagues from other departments, which means meetings, emails, etc.

 

How did you become interested in economic policy?

It was in high school I became interested in economics. I was fascinated by how a simple function could describe everything (material) happening in a country. Then I became curious how to make the model more complicated to describe the world more accurately. To use those models to enact or enable changes in the economy and country fascinates me.

My work now with the government is abstract and on a systemic level, this makes it hard to see the actual results you realize for people. But I believe that I can realize the most impact on the greater good using my talents and efforts in this field. Finally, working close to the core of our democracy and on issues that are in the news or make the news on a regular basis gives me a rush.

 

What is exciting about your field at the moment? What are the challenges given the current climate (instability, post-pandemic, etc.)

Though times of crisis are horrible for people and for businesses, they are interesting for policymakers. During the covid crisis and during the Ukrainian war, we have to think fast, be creative and get things done.

Currently, one of the largest challenges at the moment I would say is the so-called compensation culture that is on the rise in politics and society. The expectation is that the government compensates for any external effect or misfortune. Compensation is sometimes economically justified, for example because you want to prevent (human) capital destruction. But often it is a counterproductive waste of public funds, for example excessive business support during the covid crisis exacerbated labor shortages and disturbed productivity growth and subsidies to lower energy costs during the Ukrainian war will work against our efforts for sustainability and decreasing our energy dependence.

 

How do you see your work/role developing in the next 5-10 years?

I’m currently in a young, dynamic and ambitious team. It is often described as a learning school within the government and that is exactly how I would like to use it. I am learning plenty on the job because I’m working on a diverse set of topics and with growing responsibilities. Over time, I would like to move up within the government to a position where I will be working on the basis of the advice of others. As more and more policy discussions happen at the EU-level, this might also be where my future lies.

 

What is the one thing you would like people to understand about economics/policy?

People and politicians will always want policies that are custom-made for each occasion and for each person. This is also what would be best in economic theory, but in practice it’s impossible and, when tried, it leads to accidents.

 

What was so appealing about the SSE Masters in Economics program when you were considering what do choose for your Masters degree? Or what was so appealing about Stockholm/Sweden?

There were three considerations for my decision back then. I wanted to go to a good program, I wanted to do a two-year masters, and it needed to be affordable. That left only a handful of universities in Europe. A professor from my Bachelor program I admired told me that the SSE program was one of the best, a good friend I trust told me Stockholm is beautiful and fun, so off I went!

 

How did your time/education at SSE help guide you to the career journey you have embarked on?

First of all, the program at SSE gave me a solid foundation of economic knowledge that I benefit from everyday in my work. Also, the degree opened doors for me. Even in the Netherlands, many of the people in my field are familiar with SSE and the quality it provides.

During my time at SSE I came into contact with many fellow students from different backgrounds who had different plans and dreams. Also there were many opportunities to meet with companies and other organizations. Even though I ended up going back to the Netherlands and work for the public sector, this really helped me to see what else was possible and helped me in choosing my path.

 

Following your time studying, do you have any words of wisdom or advice you would like to share with our current students?

Do the things that interest you and you will find your path, or it’ll find you. Don’t take everything too seriously, life is not a competition and money isn’t going to make you happy (although as a civil servant I cannot be sure about this).

 

What are three words that sum up your time at SSE?

Knowledge, multicultural and Hirschenkeller!