Personal Profile (Short Version)

Hans-Werner Sinn studied economics in Münster and completed his doctorate and habilitation while serving as lecturer in Mannheim.

Sinn was born in East Westphalia, has been married to Gerlinde Sinn since 1971, has three children and a number of grandchildren and resides in Gauting near Munich. He has been full professor in the Faculty of Economics at the University of Munich (LMU) since 1984 and professor emeritus as of 2016. Since 2017 he has been a permanent visiting professor at the University of Lucerne, and at the turn of 2019/2020 he became Head of the Regulatory Committee of the Bavarian Economic Council (WBU).

Before becoming professor at the LMU, Sinn taught at the University of Western Ontario for two years. During his sabbaticals, he also conducted research at the Universities of Bergen, Stanford, Princeton, Calgary, Boston and Jerusalem as well as at the London School of Economics. Since 1988 Sinn has been an honorary professor at the University of Vienna. He has received honorary doctorates from the universities of Magdeburg, Helsinki, Prague and Leipzig as well as numerous international prizes and awards. 

In 1991 Sinn founded the Center for Economic Studies (CES) at the LMU, which hosted a large number of visiting international scholars and formed the basis for the Munich Graduate School of Economics in the early 1990s. From 1999 to 2016 he was President of the ifo Institute for Economic Research. Sinn was instrumental in officially attaching the Institute to the University of Munich and in initiating, with the Center for Economic Studies, the CESifo GmbH. This joint venture established the CESifo Research Network, one of the largest in the field of economics worldwide. 

From 1997 to 2000 Sinn was Chair of the Verein für Socialpolitik, the association of German-speaking economists, and from 2006 to 2009, President of the International Institute of Public Finance (IIPF). In both institutions, he initiated important reforms, including the founding of two academic journals. 

Sinn is one of the few German-speaking fellows at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), Cambridge, USA, and was the only German-speaking economist thus far to hold the Yrjö Jahnsson Lectures in Helsinki and the first German economist to deliver the Tinbergen Lectures in Amsterdam.

His academic oeuvre comprises 13 extensive monographs with 41 editions in 9 languages, 19 shorter monographs and over 140 scholarly articles. In the international RePEc ranking, which is mainly based on scientific citations, he ranked first among economists working at German institutions in the last years of his tenure and even beyond. In terms of the number of international citations per author, he placed second among German economists behind Nobel Laureate Reinhard Selten, according to a study by Ursprung und Zimmer in 2007.

Sinn’s activity is not limited to academia, however. With his ifo presidency, his oeuvre expanded to include many hundreds of newspaper articles, interviews and television appearances. Sinn viewed his presidency as a late mid-life “Sturm und Drang” period and took it upon himself  to make economic expertise understandable to a broader public and to apply it to practical policy issues. For several years, most recently in 2019, Sinn was the economist in whom German politicians placed the greatest trust, according to a survey by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ).

Sinn’s first foray into the broader public sphere was with the book Kaltstart (cold start), written jointly with his wife, in which the errors of German unification policy were unsparingly exposed as early as 1991. In more recent times, his work on the German welfare state, in particular his bestseller Can Germany Be Saved? first published in 2003, which has sold well over a hundred thousand copies, caused a public furor.

Since 2008 alone, Sinn has written six major monographs. His book The New Systems Competition, published by Basil Blackwell in 2003, analyses the problematic effects of a systems competition for mobile capital and labor. He argues that the market failures that justify state intervention within a country can also recur at the level of state competition in a globalized world.

His book The Green Paradox, develops a supply-side policy approach to climate change that focuses on the existing stocks of fossil carbon in the Earth’s crust and has had some  influence on IPCC publications.

The book Casino Capitalism, published already in 2009, was the first scholarly treatise on the great financial crisis. It explained why banks engage in gambling, and was declared by Handelsblatt to be one of the 50 most important economics books in an international and historical perspective.

With the book The Target Trap, he summarised his discovery of Target balances as a measure of overdrafts in the Eurosystem, making a complex theoretical topic generally understandable. For his research in this area, he was named one of the ten most important people who changed the world in 2011 by the British newspaper The Independent. He was the only German in the Bloomberg list of the world’s top business figures in 2012.

With the book The Euro. On Bursting Bubbles, Budgets and Beliefs, he wrote “perhaps the most important book on the financial crisis in at least a decade”, according to Kenneth Rogoff. And with the book Der Schwarze Juni (black June), he presented an in-depth analysis of the economic implications of Brexit already for the 2016 Frankfurt Book Fair. At the same time, he discussed the implications of the decision of the German Constitutional Court on the OMT program of the ECB, which in his opinion is equivalent to a conversion of government securities into Eurobonds. In 2018, on his 70th birthday, he published his memoirs under the title Auf der Suche nach der Wahrheit (in search of the truth) with Herder Publishing House. 

Sinn’s research career began well before these publications. After his first published essay on Marx’s law of the falling rate of profit, which appeared  1975 in the Zeitschrift für die gesamte Staatswissenschaft, Sinn’s early research was mainly focused on economic risk theory. He made a name for himself with his dissertation on the topic of economic decisions under uncertainty submitted 1977 and a series of subsequent essays. These dealt with topics such as the derivation of the Principle of Insufficient Reason from the axioms of the theory of expected utility, the rehabilitation of the μ,σ-approach for linear distribution classes, the justification of risk as a production factor or the experimental justification of the principle of relative risk aversion. With his dissertation, he was the first to provide a theoretical justification of the excessive risk aversion of decision-makers due to natural or legal liability limitations, a theory that was rediscovered in the international specialist literature much later under the term “gambling for resurrection”. In 2003, he used his theory to develop a model of banks’ excessive risk appetite based on insufficient equity requirements, in which he developed the theory of harmful international competition among banking regulators.

Although he delved deeply into these topics, Sinn remained a generalist in his theoretical research, moving freely among the various branches of economics. The fields in which he has scholarly publications include the neo-Keynesian theory of general disequilibrium, monetary foreign trade theory, environmental economics, the theory of exhaustible natural resources, social policy and, most importantly, taxation theory, which was the focus of his habilitation thesis.

A particular focus of much of his published research has been on the intertemporal allocation of resources and the possibilities of influencing this allocation through policy measures. In 1979, with a paper presented at the annual conference of the Verein für Socialpolitik and published in the conference proceedings one year later, he was the first economist to succeed in formulating a general intertemporal equilibrium model of economic growth in the Solow tradition, but with decentralized agents that satisfies the main theorems of welfare economics.  He used this model as the basis for his habilitation thesis on the theory of intertemporal and intersectoral effects of capital income taxation, published in German and English.

Sinn became professor emeritus on 31 March 2016, but continues to participate intensively in public discourse.

Text written by Annette Marquardt.