Paul Samuelson

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Paul Samuelson
Paul A. Samuelson, economist, edited.jpg
Samuelson c.1970–1975
Paul Anthony Samuelson

(1915-05-15)May 15, 1915
DiedDecember 13, 2009(2009-12-13) (aged 94)
Education University of Chicago (A.B.)
Harvard University (MA, PhD)
Marion Crawford
(m. 1938;died 1978)
Risha Clay
(m. 1981)
Academic career
Institution Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Field Macroeconomics
School or
Neo-Keynesian economics
Joseph Schumpeter
Wassily Leontief
Lawrence Klein [3] [4]
Robert C. Merton [5]
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 who was the first American to win the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. When awarding the prize in 1970, the Swedish Royal Academies stated that he "has done more than any other contemporary economist to raise the level of scientific analysis in economic theory". [6] Economic historian Randall E. Parker has called him the "Father of Modern Economics", [7] and The New York Times considers him to be the "foremost academic economist of the 20th century." [8]


Samuelson was likely the most influential economist of the latter half of the 20th century. [9] [10] 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. [6] 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 . [11] He was author of the best-selling economics textbook of all time: Economics: An Introductory Analysis , first published in 1948. [12] 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. [13] 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". [6]

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. [6] 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 later winners of the Nobel Memorial Prize Robert Solow (Samuelson's protégé), Robert C. Merton (one of his doctoral students), Franco Modigliani, Joseph Stiglitz, and Paul Krugman.

He served as an advisor to President John F. Kennedy and President 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", [9] claimed taking the Keynesian perspective but only accepting what he felt was good in it. [9] By contrast, Friedman represented the monetarist perspective. [14] Together with Henry Wallich, their 1967 columns earned the magazine a Gerald Loeb Special Award in 1968. [15]

Samuelson worked in many theoretical fields, including: consumer theory; welfare economics; capital; finance, particularly the efficient-market hypothesis; public finance, particularly optimal allocation; international economics, particularly the Balassa–Samuelson effect and the Heckscher–Ohlin model; macroeconomics, particularly the overlapping generations model; and market economics.


Samuelson in 1997 Paul Samuelson.jpg
Samuelson in 1997

Samuelson was born in Gary, Indiana, on May 15, 1915, to Frank Samuelson, a pharmacist, and 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". [8] In 1923, Samuelson moved to Chicago where he graduated from Hyde Park High School (now Hyde Park Career Academy).

Samuelson conducted his undergraduate studies at the University of Chicago and received his Bachelor of Arts degree there in 1935. He said he was born as an economist, at 8:00 am on January 2, 1932, in the University of Chicago classroom. [9] The lecture mentioned as the cause was on the British economist Thomas Malthus, who most famously studied population growth and its effects. [8] 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. [7] 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. [16] Samuelson's biographer argues that a central reason for Samuelson's move from Harvard to MIT was the anti-Semitism that was famously widespread at Harvard at the time. In a 1989 letter to his friend Henry Rosovsky, Samuelson blamed anti-Semitism in Harvard economics above all on chair Harold Burbank, as well as on Edward Chamberlin, John H. Williams, John D. Black, and Leonard Crum. [17]

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.

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. [18] His death was announced by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. [8] 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". [18] 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". [19] His second wife died in 2019.

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. [20]

Aphorisms and quotations

Stanislaw Ulam once challenged Samuelson to name one theory in all of the social sciences that 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." [21]

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. [22]

In the early editions of his famous, bestselling economics textbook Paul Samuelson joked that GDP falls when a man "marries his maid". [23]


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

Paul 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. [24] 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. [25] 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. [25] 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 from 1985 co-author) of an influential principles textbook, Economics , first published in 1948 (19th ed. as of 2010; multiple reprints). The book sold more than 300,000 copies of each edition from 1961 through 1976 and was translated in the forty-one languages. As of 2018, it has sold over four million copies. William Nordhaus joined as co-author on the 12th edition (1985). Sometime before 1988, it had become the best-selling economics textbook of all time. [26] [27] [lower-alpha 1]

Samuelson was once quoted as saying, "Let those who will write the nation's laws if I can write its textbooks." [28] 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." [29] This reflected the concern of Keynes himself with the economic causes of war and the importance of economic policy in promoting peace. [30] [31] [32]

Samuelson's book was the second to introduce Keynesian economics to a wide audience, and was by far the most successful. 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 lecture notes, titled Elements of Economics . [33] [34] [35]

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.


Textbook influences in higher education

Samuelson's textbook was a watershed in introducing a serious study of business cycles in the economics curriculum. It was particularly timely because it followed the Great Depression. The study of business cycles along with the introduction of the Keynesian approach of aggregate demand set the stage for the macroeconomic revolution in America, which then diffused throughout the world through translations into every major language. Generations of students, who then became teachers, learned their first and most influential lessons from Samuelson's Economics. It attracted many imitators, who became successful in different niches of the college market.

The text was not without criticism. While it praised the "mixed economy" of market and government, some found that too radical and attacked it as socialist. As a precursor to criticisms of Samuelson's Economics textbook, Lorie Tarshis's textbook was attacked by trustees of, and donors to, American colleges and universities as preaching a "socialist heresy". [36] Piling on, William F. Buckley, Jr., in his 1951 book, God and Man at Yale, devoted an entire chapter, attacking both Samuelson's and Tarshis' textbooks. For Samuelson's book, Buckley drew from the Educational Examiner and credited it as an "excellent review of Samuelson's text." ("Note to Chapter Two." p. 234) [37] [lower-alpha 2] For Tarshis' book, Buckley drew from Merwin K. Hart's organization to wit : "I am also grateful to the National Economic Council for its telling analysis of the Tarshis." ("Note to Chapter Two." p. 234) [37] Buckley essentially characterized both as – in the words of Paul Davidson – "communist inspired". [37] [35] Buckley, for the rest of his life, defended the criticisms set forth in his book.

Economic growth of USSR

One criticism – of a concept that Samuelson added to his Economics textbook – was the comparison of USA growth rates with those of the USSR, which, according to the criticism, was inconsistent with historical GNP differences. [38] The textbook's 1967 edition (7th ed.) extrapolates (projects) the possibility of USSR/US real GNP parity between 1977 and 1995. Each subsequent edition extrapolates a date range further in the future until those graphs were dropped from the 1985 edition (12th ed.). [39]

Phillips Curve

Samuelson, together with Robert Solow, helped develop and popularize the mathematics of the Phillips Curve. The curve suggested that unemployment and inflation were inversely related; with the advent of stagflation in the 1970s some economists including Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek attacked the economics based on the Phillips Curve as questionable or mistaken.


List of publications

Samuelson, Paul A. (1966), Vol. 1 → via Google Books, 1937–mid-1964.
Samuelson, Paul A. (1966), Vol. 2 → via Google Books, 1937–mid-1964.
Samuelson, Paul A. (1972), Vol. 3 → via Google Books, mid-1964–1970.
Samuelson, Paul A. (1977), Vol. 4 → via Internet Archive (registration required), 1971–76.
Samuelson, Paul A. (1986), Vol. 5 → via Google Books, 1977–1985 Description → via
Samuelson, Paul A. (2011), Vol. 6 [ permanent dead link ], 1986–2009. Description → via Wayback Machine
Samuelson, Paul A. (2011), Vol. 7 [ permanent dead link ], 1986–2009.

See also


Explanatory annotations

  1. With regard to the Samuelson's textbook Economics being the best-seller of all time, other notable high-selling textbooks include:
  2. The Educational Reviewer was founded in 1949 by Lucille Cardin Crain (née Marie Lucille Gabrielle Cardin; 1901–1983), a conservative activist whose primary interest was in – as she stated in 1951 – "rooting out radical influences in American education." In each issue, arch-conservative academicians and writers offered their views of high school and college textbooks as evidence of collectivist content and the like. The publication, for the first three years, was chiefly financed by William F. Buckley, Jr. Crain's, Kenneth Cardwell Crain (1883–1969), was a brother of Gustavus Demetrious Crain, Jr. (1885–1973), founder of Crain Communications.

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  31. Samuelson, Paul (1989). Economics (13th ed.). McGraw Hill. p.  837. ISBN   9780070547865.
  32. "Paul A. Samuelson Biographical".
  33. Tarshis, Lorie (1947). The Elements of Economics: An Introduction to the Theory of Price and Employment. Houghton Mifflin CompanyThe Riverside Press. OCLC   989388561 . Retrieved April 23, 2021 via Internet Archive.
  34. Harcourt, G. C. (July 1982). "An Early Post Keynesian: Lorie Tarshis (or: Tarshis on Tarshis by Harcourt)" . Journal of Post Keynesian Economics. Taylor & Francis, Ltd. 4 (4): 609–619. doi:10.1080/01603477.1982.11489324. JSTOR   4537699 . Retrieved November 19, 2022.  ISSN   0160-3477 (publication); OCLC   222424878, 5550180927, 7323662377 (article).
  35. 1 2 Davidson, Paul (Autumn 2005). "Galbraith and the Post Keynesians" . Journal of Post Keynesian Economics. Taylor & Francis, Ltd. 28 (1): 103–113. JSTOR   4538962 . Retrieved April 22, 2021 ("William F. Buckley [ ... ] attacked Tarshis's book as being communist inspired." p. 107){{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: postscript (link)  ISSN   0160-3477 (print publication); ISSN   1557-7821 (online publication); OCLC   5550151503, 192224991 (article).
  36. Davidson, Paul (Spring 2015). "What Was the Primary Factor Encouraging Mainstream Economists to Marginalize Post Keynesian Theory?". Journal of Post Keynesian Economics. Taylor & Francis, Ltd. 37 (3): 369–383. doi:10.1080/01603477.2015.1000093. S2CID   154780517.  ISSN   0160-3477 (print publication); ISSN   1557-7821 (online publication); ProQuest   1673822215 (abstract; database → ABI/INFORM Collection); OCLC   8504916331 (article).
  37. 1 2 3 Buckley, William F. Jr. (December 1951) [September 1951]. "Chapter 2: Individualism at Yale". God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of "Academic Freedom (4th printing). Chicago: Henry Regnery Company. pp. 45–113. ISBN   9780895266927 . Retrieved April 22, 2021 via Internet Archive  (Buckley's criticism of Tarshis's textbook, The Elements of Economics , begins at p. 49 and is expanded in Appendix VII → pp. 227, 230–231){{cite book}}: External link in |postscript= (help)CS1 maint: postscript (link).  OCLC   189667(all editions).
  38. Levy, David M.; Peart, Sandra J. (December 3, 2009). "Soviet Growth & American Textbooks". SSRN Working Paper: 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.
  39. 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.
  40. "Paul Anthony Samuelson". American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Retrieved December 15, 2022.
  41. "APS Member History". Retrieved December 15, 2022.
  42. "Paul A. Samuelson". Retrieved December 15, 2022.

Further reading

Preceded by Laureate of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics
Succeeded by