A Sad Day For Economists: R.I.P. Paul Samuelson

Paul A. Samuelson, the first American Nobel laureate in economics and the foremost academic economist of the 20th century, died Sunday at his home in Belmont, Mass. He was 94.

During my undergraduate years, being the guru of my professors, Samuelson influenced the way we were thinking about economics, even though I must confess that I switched later on the Chicago School and Friedman ideas (by the way, Samuelson got his Bachelor degree at the University of Chicago – before going to Harvard where he was attracted to the ideas of professor Alvin Hansen, the leading exponent of Keynesian theory in America – and was a friend of Friedman, a graduate student at that time).PaulSamuelson

When Samuelson received the Nobel Prize in 1970, the Swedish Royal Academy said that he "has done more than any other contemporary economist to raise the level of scientific analysis in economic theory," according to MIT’s release. He was awarded a National Medal of Science in 1996.

Samuelson Medal of Science Agence France-Presse – Getty Images

Samuelson also helped build MIT’s economics department into a world-renowned research and teaching institution, in bringing in Solow, Engle, Klein, Krugman, Modigliani, Merton, and Stiglitz.

Samuelson wrote one of the most widely used college textbooks in the history of American education. The book, “Economics,” first published in 1948, was the nation’s best-selling textbook for nearly 30 years. Translated into 20 languages, it was selling 50,000 copies in the 90’s.

Mathematics had already been employed by social scientists, but Samuelson brought the discipline into the mainstream of economic thinking, showing how to derive strong theoretical predictions from simple mathematical assumptions.

He certainly redefined modern economics through his lessons and publications and introduced Keynesian’s concepts to Kennedy and Johnson.

The rest is history.

Let’s hope that my students will remember his name and incredible achievements.



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2 Responses

  1. With time, I believe the mathematical “problem solving” orientation of twentieth-century economics will be viewed as piece-meal and insufficient, especially as we look at the viability of the market-mechanism itself in the wake of the financial crisis. Relatedly, Samuelson’s “mathematization” of economics treats the discipline as though it were a science–ignoring the inherent limits to prediction of a human system, whether social, political or economic. For more, pls see http://euandus3.wordpress.com/2009/12/14/paul-samuelson-the-20th-century-economist-has-passed/

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