Paul Samuelson

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Paul Samuelson
Paul Samuelson.jpg
Samuelson in 1997
Paul Anthony Samuelson

(1915-05-15)May 15, 1915
DiedDecember 13, 2009(2009-12-13) (aged 94)
Nationality United States
Institution Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Field Macroeconomics
School or
Neo-Keynesian economics
Alma mater University of Chicago, (B.A.)
Harvard University, (Ph.D.)
Joseph Schumpeter
Wassily Leontief
Lawrence Klein [1] [2]
Robert C. Merton [3]
Influences Keynes   Schumpeter   Leontief   Haberler   Hansen   Wilson   Wicksell   Lindahl
Contributions Neoclassical synthesis
Mathematical economics
Economic methodology
Revealed preference
International trade
Economic growth
Public goods
Awards John Bates Clark Medal (1947)
Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences (1970)
National Medal of Science (1996)
Information at IDEAS / RePEc

Paul Anthony Samuelson (May 15, 1915 – December 13, 2009) was an American economist and the first American to win the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. The Swedish Royal Academies stated, when awarding the prize in 1970, that he "has done more than any other contemporary economist to raise the level of scientific analysis in economic theory". [4] Economic historian Randall E. Parker has called him the "Father of Modern Economics", [5] and The New York Times considered him to be the "foremost academic economist of the 20th century". [6]

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the largest city by population is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.

Economist professional in the social science discipline of economics

An economist is a practitioner in the social science discipline of economics.

The Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, commonly referred to as the Nobel Prize in Economics, is an award for outstanding contributions to the field of economics, and generally regarded as the most prestigious award for that field. The award's official name is The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel.


Samuelson was likely the most influential economist of the later 20th century. [7] In 1996, when he was awarded the National Medal of Science, considered to be America's top science-honor, President Bill Clinton commended Samuelson for his "fundamental contributions to economic science" for over 60 years. [4] Samuelson considered mathematics to be the "natural language" for economists and contributed significantly to the mathematical foundations of economics with his book Foundations of Economic Analysis . [8] He was author of the best-selling economics textbook of all time: Economics: An Introductory Analysis , first published in 1948. [9] It was the second American textbook that attempted to explain the principles of Keynesian economics. It is now in its 19th edition, having sold nearly 4 million copies in 40 languages, including Russian, French, Greek, Slovak, Chinese, Portuguese, German, Spanish, Polish, Japanese, Czech, Vietnamese, Hungarian, Indonesian, Swedish, Croatian, Dutch, Turkish, Hebrew, Italian, and Arabic. [10] James Poterba, former head of MIT's Department of Economics, noted that by his book, Samuelson "leaves an immense legacy, as a researcher and a teacher, as one of the giants on whose shoulders every contemporary economist stands". [4]

National Medal of Science award

The National Medal of Science is an honor bestowed by the President of the United States to individuals in science and engineering who have made important contributions to the advancement of knowledge in the fields of behavioral and social sciences, biology, chemistry, engineering, mathematics and physics. The twelve member presidential Committee on the National Medal of Science is responsible for selecting award recipients and is administered by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Bill Clinton 42nd president of the United States

William Jefferson Clinton is an American politician who served as the 42nd president of the United States from 1993 to 2001. Prior to the presidency, he was the governor of Arkansas from 1979 to 1981, and again from 1983 to 1992, and the attorney general of Arkansas from 1977 to 1979. A member of the Democratic Party, Clinton was ideologically a New Democrat, and many of his policies reflected a centrist "Third Way" political philosophy.

Mathematics Field of study concerning quantity, patterns and change

Mathematics includes the study of such topics as quantity, structure, space, and change.

He entered the University of Chicago at age 16, during the depths of the Great Depression, and received his PhD in economics from Harvard. After graduating, he became an assistant professor of economics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) when he was 25 years of age and a full professor at age 32. In 1966, he was named Institute Professor, MIT's highest faculty honor. [4] He spent his career at MIT where he was instrumental in turning its Department of Economics into a world-renowned institution by attracting other noted economists to join the faculty, including Robert M. Solow, Franco Modigliani, Robert C. Merton, Joseph E. Stiglitz, and Paul Krugman, all of whom went on to win Nobel Prizes.

University of Chicago Private research university in Chicago, Illinois, United States

The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois. Founded in 1890, the school is located on a 217-acre campus in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood, near Lake Michigan. The University of Chicago holds top-ten positions in various national and international rankings.

Great Depression 20th-century worldwide economic depression

The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression that took place mostly during the 1930s, beginning in the United States. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations; in most countries it started in 1929 and lasted until the late-1930s. It was the longest, deepest, and most widespread depression of the 20th century. In the 21st century, the Great Depression is commonly used as an example of how intensely the world's economy can decline.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology University in Massachusetts

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is a private research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Founded in 1861 in response to the increasing industrialization of the United States, MIT adopted a European polytechnic university model and stressed laboratory instruction in applied science and engineering. It has since played a key role in the development of many aspects of modern science, engineering, and mathematics, and is widely known for its innovation and academic strength, making it one of the most prestigeous institutions of higher learning in the world. The Institute is a land-grant, sea-grant, and space-grant university, with an urban campus that extends more than a mile alongside the Charles River.

He served as an advisor to Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, and was a consultant to the United States Treasury, the Bureau of the Budget and the President's Council of Economic Advisers. Samuelson wrote a weekly column for Newsweek magazine along with Chicago School economist Milton Friedman, where they represented opposing sides: Samuelson, as a self described "Cafeteria Keynesian", [7] claimed taking the Keynesian perspective but only accepting what he felt was good in it. [7] By contrast, Friedman represented the monetarist perspective. [11] Together with Henry Wallich, their 1967 columns earned the magazine a Gerald Loeb Special Award in 1968. [12] Samuelson died on 13 December 2009, at the age of 94.

John F. Kennedy 35th president of the United States

John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy, often referred to by his initials JFK, was an American politician and journalist who served as the 35th president of the United States from January 1961 until his assassination in November 1963. He served at the height of the Cold War, and the majority of his presidency dealt with managing relations with the Soviet Union. A member of the Democratic Party, Kennedy represented Massachusetts in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate prior to becoming president.

Lyndon B. Johnson 36th president of the United States

Lyndon Baines Johnson, often referred to as LBJ, was an American politician who served as the 36th president of the United States from 1963 to 1969. Formerly the 37th vice president of the United States from 1961 to 1963, he assumed the presidency following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. A Democrat from Texas, Johnson also served as a United States Representative and as the Majority Leader in the United States Senate. Johnson is one of only four people who have served in all four federal elected positions.

Council of Economic Advisers US federal government agency

The Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) is a United States agency within the Executive Office of the President established in 1946, which advises the President of the United States on economic policy. The CEA provides much of the empirical research for the White House and prepares the annual Economic Report of the President.


Samuelson was born in Gary, Indiana, on 15 May 1915, to Frank Samuelson, a pharmacist, and the Ella née Lipton. His family, he later said, was "made up of upwardly mobile Jewish immigrants from Poland who had prospered considerably in World War I, because Gary was a brand new steel-town when my family went there". [6] In 1923, Samuelson moved to Chicago where he graduated from Hyde Park High School (now Hyde Park Career Academy). He then studied at the University of Chicago and received his Bachelor of Arts degree there in 1935. He said he was born as an economist, at 8.00am on January 2, 1932, in the University of Chicago classroom. [7] The lecture mentioned the cause was on the British economist Thomas Malthus, who most famously studied population growth and its effects. [13] Samuelson felt there was a dissonance between neoclassical economics and the way the system seemed to behave; he said Henry Simons and Frank Knight were a big influence on him. [14] He next completed his Master of Arts degree in 1936, and his Doctor of Philosophy in 1941 at Harvard University. He won the David A. Wells prize in 1941 for writing the best doctoral dissertation at Harvard University in economics, for a thesis titled "Foundations of Analytical Economics", which later turned into Foundations of Economic Analysis . As a graduate student at Harvard, Samuelson studied economics under Joseph Schumpeter, Wassily Leontief, Gottfried Haberler, and the "American Keynes" Alvin Hansen. Samuelson moved to MIT as an assistant professor in 1940 and remained there until his death. [15]

Gary, Indiana City in Indiana, United States

Gary is a city in Lake County, Indiana, United States, 25 miles (40 km) from downtown Chicago, Illinois. Gary is adjacent to the Indiana Dunes National Park and borders southern Lake Michigan. Gary was named after lawyer Elbert Henry Gary, who was the founding chairman of the United States Steel Corporation. The city is known for its large steel mills, and as the birthplace of the Jackson 5 music group.

Pharmacy academic discipline studying preparation and dispensation of medicines

Pharmacy is the science and technique of preparing, dispensing, and review of drugs and providing additional clinical services. It is a health profession that links health sciences with pharmaceutical sciences and aims to ensure the safe, effective, and affordable use of drugs. The professional practice is becoming more clinically oriented as most of the drugs are now manufactured by pharmaceutical industries. Based on the setting, the pharmacy is classified as a community or institutional pharmacy. Providing direct patient care in the community of institutional pharmacies are considered clinical pharmacy.

Poland Republic in Central Europe

Poland, officially the Republic of Poland, is a country located in Central Europe. It is divided into 16 administrative subdivisions, covering an area of 312,696 square kilometres (120,733 sq mi), and has a largely temperate seasonal climate. With a population of approximately 38.5 million people, Poland is the sixth most populous member state of the European Union. Poland's capital and largest metropolis is Warsaw. Other major cities include Kraków, Łódź, Wrocław, Poznań, Gdańsk, and Szczecin.

Samuelson's family included many well-known economists, including brother Robert Summers, sister-in-law Anita Summers, brother-in-law Kenneth Arrow and nephew Larry Summers.

Robert Summers was an economist and professor at the University of Pennsylvania, where he taught from 1960. A widely cited early work by Summers is on the small-sample statistical properties of alternate regression estimators where analytical measures are unavailable.

Anita Arrow Summers is an American educator of public policy, management, real estate and education and is Professor Emerita at the University of Pennsylvania.

Kenneth Arrow American economist

Kenneth Joseph "Ken" Arrow was an American economist, mathematician, writer, and political theorist. He was the joint winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences with John Hicks in 1972.

During his seven decades as an economist, Samuelson's professional positions included:


Samuelson died after a brief illness on December 13, 2009, at the age of 94. [16] His death was announced by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. [6] James M. Poterba, an economics professor at MIT and the president of the National Bureau of Economic Research, commented that Samuelson "leaves an immense legacy, as a researcher and a teacher, as one of the giants on whose shoulders every contemporary economist stands". [16] Susan Hockfield, the president of MIT, said that Samuelson "transformed everything he touched: the theoretical foundations of his field, the way economics was taught around the world, the ethos and stature of his department, the investment practices of MIT, and the lives of his colleagues and students". [17]

Fields of interest

As professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Samuelson worked in many fields, including:


Samuelson is considered one of the founders of neo-Keynesian economics and a seminal figure in the development of neoclassical economics. In awarding him the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences the committee stated:

More than any other contemporary economist, Samuelson has helped to raise the general analytical and methodological level in economic science. He has simply rewritten considerable parts of economic theory. He has also shown the fundamental unity of both the problems and analytical techniques in economics, partly by a systematic application of the methodology of maximization for a broad set of problems. This means that Samuelson's contributions range over a large number of different fields.

He was also essential in creating the neoclassical synthesis, which ostensibly incorporated Keynesian and neoclassical principles and still dominates current mainstream economics. In 2003, Samuelson was one of the ten Nobel Prize–winning economists signing the Economists' statement opposing the Bush tax cuts. [18]

Aphorisms and quotations

Stanislaw Ulam once challenged Samuelson to name one theory in all of the social sciences which is both true and nontrivial. Several years later, Samuelson responded with David Ricardo's theory of comparative advantage: "That it is logically true need not be argued before a mathematician; that is not trivial is attested by the thousands of important and intelligent men who have never been able to grasp the doctrine for themselves or to believe it after it was explained to them." [19]

For many years, Samuelson wrote a column for Newsweek . One article included Samuelson's most quoted remark and a favorite economics joke:

To prove that Wall Street is an early omen of movements still to come in GNP, commentators quote economic studies alleging that market downturns predicted four out of the last five recessions. That is an understatement. Wall Street indexes predicted nine out of the last five recessions! And its mistakes were beauties. [20]

In the early editions of his famous, bestselling economics textbook Paul Samuelson joked that GDP falls when a man "marries his maid". (See The Economist, The trouble with GDP).


The competitive price system adapted from Samuelson, 1961 The competitive price system adapted from Samuelson, 1961.jpg
The competitive price system adapted from Samuelson, 1961

Foundations of Economic Analysis

Samuelson's book Foundations of Economic Analysis (1946) is considered his magnum opus. It is derived from his doctoral dissertation, and was inspired by the classical thermodynamic methods. [21] The book proposes to:

in order to derive "a general theory of economic theories" (Samuelson, 1983, p. xxvi). The book showed how these goals could be parsimoniously and fruitfully achieved, using the language of the mathematics applied to diverse subfields of economics. The book proposes two general hypotheses as sufficient for its purposes:

In the first tenet, his views presented the idea that all actors, whether firms or consumers, are striving to maximize something. They could be attempting to maximize profits, utility, or wealth, but it did not matter because their efforts to improve their well-being would provide a basic model for all actors in an economic system. [22] His second tenet was focused on providing insight on the workings of equilibrium in an economy. Generally in a market, supply would equal demand. However, he urged that this might not be the case and that the important thing to look at was a system's natural resting point. Foundations presents the question of how an equilibrium would react when it is moved from its optimal point. [22] Samuelson was also influential in providing explanations on how the changes in certain factors can affect an economic system. For example, he could explain the economic effect of changes in taxes or new technologies.

In the course of analysis, comparative statics , (the analysis of changes in equilibrium of the system that result from a parameter change of the system) is formalized and clearly stated.

The chapter on welfare economics "attempt(s) to give a brief but fairly complete survey of the whole field of welfare economics" (Samuelson, 1947, p. 252). It also exposits on and develops what became commonly called the Bergson–Samuelson social welfare function. It shows how to represent (in the maximization calculus) all real-valued economic measures of any belief system that is required to rank consistently different feasible social configurations in an ethical sense as "better than", "worse than", or "indifferent to" each other (p. 221).


Samuelson is also author (and since 1985 co-author) of an influential principles textbook, Economics , first published in 1948, now in its 19th edition. The book has been translated into forty-one languages and sold over four million copies; it is considered the best-selling economics textbook in history.[ citation needed ] Samuelson was once quoted as saying, "Let those who will write the nation's laws if I can write its textbooks." [23] Written in the shadow of the Great Depression and the Second World War, it helped to popularize the insights of John Maynard Keynes. A main focus was how to avoid, or at least mitigate, the recurring slumps in economic activity.

Samuelson wrote: "It is not too much to say that the widespread creation of dictatorships and the resulting World War II stemmed in no small measure from the world's failure to meet this basic economic problem [the Great Depression] adequately." [24] This reflected the concern of Keynes himself with the economic causes of war and the importance of economic policy in promoting peace. [25]

Samuelson's influential textbook has been criticized for including comparative growth rates between the United States and the Soviet Union that were inconsistent with historical GNP differences. [26] The 1967 edition extrapolates the possibility of Soviet/US real GNP parity between 1977 and 1995. Each subsequent edition extrapolated a date range further in the future until those graphs were dropped from the 1985 edition. [27]

In 1989, Samuelson commented on the economics of the Soviet Union and Marxism: "Contrary to what many skeptics had earlier believed, the Soviet economy is proof that ... a socialist, command economy can function and even thrive." [28] The Revolutions of 1989 happened during the same year and the Soviet Union broke up two years later.

Samuelson's book was the second one that attempted to introduce to a wider audience Keynesian economics, yet by far the most successful one. Canadian economist Lorie Tarshis, who had been a student attending Keynes's lectures at Harvard in the 1930s, published in 1947 an introductory textbook that incorporated his Tarshis's lecture notes, titled The Elements of Economics. [29] It was attacked by trustees of, and donors, to American colleges and universities as preaching a "socialist heresy". [30] William F. Buckley Jr. attacked the Tarshis analysis as "communist inspired". [31]

Other publications

There are 388 papers in Samuelson's Collected Scientific Papers. Stanley Fischer (1987, p. 234) writes that taken together they are "unique in their verve, breadth of economic and general knowledge, mastery of setting, and generosity of allusions to predecessors."

Samuelson was co-editor, along with William A. Barnett, of Inside the Economist's Mind: Conversations with Eminent Economists (Blackwell Publishing, 2007), a collection of interviews with notable economists of the 20th century.


List of publications

Samuelson, Paul A. (1966), Vol. 1, 1937–mid-1964.
Samuelson, Paul A. (1966), Vol. 2, 1937–mid-1964.
Samuelson, Paul A. (1972), Vol. 3, mid-1964–1970.
Samuelson, Paul A. (1977), Vol. 4 [ permanent dead link ], 1971–76.
Samuelson, Paul A. (1986), Vol. 5, 1977–1985 Description
Samuelson, Paul A. (2011), Vol. 6 [ permanent dead link ], 1986–2009. Description.
Samuelson, Paul A. (2011), Vol. 7 [ permanent dead link ], 1986–2009.

See also

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  7. 1 2 3 4 5 "Paul Samuelson: The last of the great general economists died on December 13th, aged 94", The Economist , 17 December 2009
  8. Solow, Robert (2010). "On Paul Samuelson". Challenge.
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  12. Devaney, James J. (May 22, 1968). "'Playboy', 'Monitor' Honored". Hartford Courant . CXXXI (143) (Final ed.). p. 36. Retrieved March 20, 2019 via
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  14. Parker, Randall E. (2002). Reflections on the Great Depression. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar. pp. 27–28.
  15. Backhouse, R. E. (2014). "Paul A. Samuelson's Move to MIT". History of Political Economy. 46: 60. doi:10.1215/00182702-2716118.
  16. 1 2 "Nobel economics laureate Samuelson died at 94". Reuters. December 13, 2009.
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  20. Samuelson, Paul (September 19, 1966), "Science and Stocks", Newsweek, p. 92
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  24. See Mankiw, Gregory (January 10, 2009), "Is government spending too easy an answer?", New York Times
  25. See Markwell, Donald (2006), John Maynard Keynes and International Relations: Economic Paths to War and Peace, New York: Oxford University Press, ISBN   978-0-19-829236-4
  26. Levy, David M.; Peart, Sandra J. (December 3, 2009), "Soviet Growth & American Textbooks", SSRN Working Paper, pp. 8–12, SSRN   1517983 , the optimistic forecast of time before the Soviet overtaking is 23 years; the more pessimistic time to overtaking in the max-max world is 36 years. The non-overtaking trajectory is constructed on the specification that something reduces Soviet growth in out years below what simple extrapolation would have it.
  27. Bethell, Tom (October 1999). "The Soviet Experiment". The noblest triumph: property and prosperity through the ages. Palgrave MacMillan. p. 151. ISBN   978-0-312-22337-3.
  28. Samuelson, Paul (1989). Economics, 13th Ed. McGraw Hill. p. 837.
  29. Tarshis, Lorie. The Elements of Economics: An Introduction to the Theory of Price and Employment. Houghton-Mifflin, 1947, ASIN: B0006D85FI
  30. Davidson, Paul. "What was the primary factor encouraging mainstream economists to marginalize post-Keynesian theory?" Journal of Post-Keynesian Economics, vol.37, no.3, spring 2015, pp.369-383
  31. Buckley, William F. God and Man at Yale, 1951

Further reading

Preceded by
Ragnar Frisch
Jan Tinbergen
Laureate of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics
Succeeded by
Simon Kuznets