Roel Visser, 2018-19 HOPE Center Fellow

On the day the US women’s national soccer team played France in the World Cup quarterfinals, Roel Visser, a Dutch PhD student at the University of Bielefeld in Germany, walked into the HOPE Center wearing a USA baseball cap, making no bones about which side he was rooting for.

But what if the US meets the Netherlands in the final? “Well, I guess I win either way,” Roel said.

Such are the diplomatic tendencies Roel has developed during his time in the U.S.

But diplomacy only extends so far. “Chicken and waffles are two things that should not go together,” Roel insists, referring to the American dish that has enjoyed a newfound popularity in recent years. “It tastes good, though.”

Roel is a 2019 HOPE Center fellow who studies the involvement of economists in policy making. He is currently looking at the role of economists at the CBP Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis, where Roel was once an intern, in budgetary policy decisions of the Dutch government.

“There’s this tension between providing just the facts and recommending or influencing policy decisions,” Roel says.

“On top of that, to give helpful advice, economists need to have an insiders’ knowledge of how the government functions. But the further involved they are, it becomes really hard to keep from straying into the normative realm--of deciding what politicians need to know or do.”

Take forecasts, for instance. Policy makers typically want straightforward predictions of what will happen in this or that market or what the government’s revenue and expenses will be in the next fiscal year.

Yet economists know that any forecast involves a lot of uncertainty, which will affect the success of any policy. Just how should that uncertainty be presented or spun? Should it be mentioned at all?

“To answer those questions, economists inevitably make judgment calls and take political considerations into account,” Roel says.

Economists must define their own political role to justify how they give policy advice. “Where do these views on the proper political role of scientists come from, which role models do economists invoke, and how do their views compare to those of others, such as philosophers?”

Roel brings to the center a background in philosophy of science, which, he says, has different concerns than history.

“Philosophers of science are interested in proving a point, making an argument. Historians care more about narratives. Insofar as historians make arguments, they tend to be historiographical: how history should be done. Bridging these different approaches is an exciting challenge!”

Roel, who arrived in late February, has quickly adapted to life in Durham, which he had already visited for the HOPE Summer Institute in 2018. He can often be found cycling on the American Tobacco Trail and especially enjoys the national pastime of baseball, whether it’s a Durham Bulls game, the USA against Cuba on Independence Day, or a Greensboro Grasshoppers game, where he saw a dinosaur throw the first pitch and run the bases.

Roel will return to Bielefeld in December.