Tobin studied from 1935 to 1941 at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts economics. The following year he entered the service of the U.S. Navy, where he remained until 1946. A year later he received his doctorate on the subject of consumption function. From 1950 to 1988 he was professor of economics at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. During this time he was initially from 1955 to 1961 and again from 1964 to 1965 director of the Cowles Foundation. In the meantime, he was a member from 1961 to 1962 Council of Economic Advisors ( CEA ) of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. Tobin was also from 1966 to 1970 chairman of the New Haven City plan commission.
Tobin is best known for his 1972 proposed uniform worldwide ( steering ) tax on speculative international currency transactions, the so-called Tobin tax. He also developed a well-known econometric model for censored (also called truncated or truncated labeled) variables, the Tobit model. It is often claimed that Tobin was for it to have the benefit of the proceeds from the collection of the Tobin tax on the World Bank developing countries. In truth, however, he spoke only not explicitly, on the other hand ', and pointed out that this point is not the key to its control concept.
His idea of a Tobin tax has been taken up by the movement of the critics of globalization in a changed form. Tobin was highly critical of this change. In an interview with the news magazine Der Spiegel he said on 3 September 2001, he was " a supporter of free trade. I also endorse the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization - all the while this movement anrennt. The misuse my name. "
The name of Tobin wear in the area of capital market theory, the Tobin separation, and Tobin's Q. Tobin received the 1981 Nobel Prize in Economics for his work in the field of portfolio theory.