Skip to main content
Select Source:

Samuelson, Paul A.

Samuelson, Paul A. 1915-

BIBLIOGRAPHY

If one could do a mental time-and-motion study of a modern economic theorist at work, a large fraction of what he or she actually does from day to day would turn out to have its origins in Paul Samuelsons work. In that precise sense, Samuelson has been the economists economist.

Paul Anthony Samuelson was born in Gary, Indiana, on May 15, 1915. He graduated from Hyde Park High School in Chicago in 1932 and went on to the University of Chicago and an already precocious B.A. in 1935. The next step proved to be important: he moved to Harvard for his Ph.D., studying with Joseph Schumpeter (18831950), Gottfried Haberler (19001995), Wassily Leontief (19061999), and, more to the point, the polymath Edwin Bidwell Wilson (18791964), from whom he may have learned some tricks of the trade in dealing with equilibrium systems of equations. From 1937 to 1940 Samuelson was a junior fellow of the Harvard Society of Fellows; that wasand isa plum appointment, providing a stipend, stimulating company, and three undisturbed years in which to pursue ones own research. In 1940 he was appointed assistant professor of economics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), retiring as institute professor emeritus in 1986. If Harvard had retained Samuelson as an assistant professor, the history of economic thought might not have been affected, but the center of gravity of economic teaching would not have shifted so strongly toward MIT. Anti-Semitism certainly played a significant role in Harvards failure to keep him, but there were other factors as well: Lloyd Metzler and James Tobin also slipped away.

Samuelson has probably been the last great generalist in economics. His five volumes of published papers (with more in the works) range from the pure theory of consumer demand to macroeconomics and the history of economic thought. The place to start, however, is with The Foundations of Economic Analysis, published in 1947 (and reprinted with additions in 1983) but already containing the results of earlier articles. It is fair to say that this book was the major influence in the transformation of economics into the mathematical-model-building discipline it is today.

Of course there had been many important prior uses of mathematics in economic theory. What the Foundations did was to turn scattered stand-alone efforts into a paradigm, in Thomas Kuhns (19221996) original sense of a standard way to answer standard questions. In particular, Samuelson explained, exemplified, and inculcated the notion of comparative statics, aimed at answering a fundamental class of questions: how do the coordinates of an equilibrium point defined by a system of equations shift when one or more of the given determining parameters changes? Bread-and-butter examples range from determining the effects of a changing excise tax on the price and quantity of a single good to determining the effect of a changing quantity of base money on the basic variables of a macroeconomic model. A second focus of the book was on the logic of constrained maximization, and a third on the importance of explicit dynamic modeling both for its own results and for understanding the stability, and therefore the significance, of a longer-run equilibrium. The wealth of examples was an eye-opener to younger economists.

Despite the broad landscape over which his work has ranged, there are especially important concentrations. His first three articles, dating from 1937 to 1938, are on utility theory and consumer behavior, the pure theory of capital, and welfare economics and international trade. The theory of consumer behavior has been on Samuelsons mind for seventy years.

There is a story that, asked by a science department colleague at MIT to name a theory in economics that was neither false nor trivial, Samuelson named the theory of comparative advantage. True to his word, he has made outstanding contributions to the theory of international trade. They include a complete statement and clarification of the gains from trade, the factor-price equalization theorem (when does free trade in produced goods induce uniform prices of immobile factors, wherever they are, and when does it not), the transfer problem, and more.

Yet another such monument is the theory of public goods (initiated by Erik Lindahl [18911960] but worked out in its modern form by Samuelson). These are goods the use of which by one consumer does not foreclose use by others. Examples include weather forecasts, national defense, and clean air. Instances with a public-good element outnumber the pure public goods, and this adds importance to the problem.

There is room merely to mention only one more of these clusters in Samuelsons work, the theory of finance. Here he has not only made contributions himselffor example, the martingale property of asset prices, and even the beginning of a theory of option pricingbut he has directly inspired the work of others. For further references, comments by specialists, and discussion of Samuelsons contributions to still other branches of economics, see E. Cary Brown and Robert M. Solow (1983) and Michael Szenberg et al. (2006).

What has been described so far was aimed at other economists. Another side of Samuelsons activity has been directed at a broader public. Apart from columns in newspapers and magazines in the United States and elsewhere and many public lectures, there is the famous elementary textbook Economics. The first edition was published in 1948, with up-to-date revisions published at approximately three-year intervals until 1985, when it acquired the joint authorship of William D. Nordhaus of Yale. Successive editions have followed, the 2005 edition being the eighteenth. For many years Economics was the runaway leader in sales, but it was eventually overtaken by other textbooks, most of which had imitated the form and tone that Samuelson had pioneered.

Economics was an innovator in several respects. The textbook taught economics to beginning students as the model-building enterprise it had become, taught to them in simplified form, of course. Students were expected to use the supply-and-demand apparatus or a simple macro-economic model as devices for understanding made-up events, and also real-world data. It was a style of teaching that lent itself to problem sets, certainly appropriate at MIT but equally appropriate to the view of economics as a pragmatic discipline, a How Things Work discipline. The three-year revisions were intended to keep the noses of students, classroom teachers, and the author to the grindstone of what was actually happening in the economy at large. The unity of theory and practice has been a hallmark of Samuelsons work.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Brown, E. Cary, and Robert M. Solow, eds. 1983. Paul Samuelson and Modern Economic Theory. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Samuelson, Paul A. [1947] 1983. Foundations of Economic Analysis. Enlarged ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Samuelson, Paul A. 19661986. The Collected Scientific Papers of Paul A. Samuelson. Vols. 15. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Samuelson, Paul A., and William D. Nordhaus. 2005. Economics. 18th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

Szenberg, Michael, Lall Ramrattan, and Aron Gottesman, eds. 2006. Samuelsonian Economics and the Twenty-First Century. New York: Oxford University Press.

Robert M. Solow

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Samuelson, Paul A.." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Samuelson, Paul A.." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/samuelson-paul

"Samuelson, Paul A.." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/samuelson-paul

Paul Anthony Samuelson

Paul Anthony Samuelson

The American economist Paul Anthony Samuelson (born 1915) was the most distinguished of the economists who entered the profession during and after the mid-1930s—the "Keynesian generation." He was frequently referred to as the last of the generalists.

Paul Samuelson was born on May 15, 1915, in Gary, Indiana. He graduated from the University of Chicago in 1935 and pursued graduate study in economics at Harvard University, where he received the master's degree in 1936 and the doctorate in 1941 and was made a member of the prestigious Harvard Society of Junior Fellows. In 1940 he joined the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Samuelson's Foundations of Economic Analysis and numerous pioneering articles on economic theory, statistics, mathematical economics, and the important postwar policy issues placed him among the select few of the world's leading economists by the 1940s. In 1947, he was awarded the John Bates Clark Medal, which acknowledged him as the outstanding American economic scholar under the age of 40.

A continuing steady stream of scientific books and articles and the appearance of Samuelson's textbook, Economics: An Introductory Analysis (1948), made him not only the most respected but also the best-known economist of his time. His Economics had been the standard textbook in the United States and throughout the world for more than two decades. Its unprecedented success was of course attributable to its overall greatness. However, high on the list of specific reasons were Samuelson's concern with the big, vital economic issues, his changing of these issues as appropriate with each new edition, and his sparkling and lucid writing style, which made these issues come alive to both teacher and student. He also wrote Economics from the Heart: the Samuelson Sampler (1983); and co-authored with William D. Nordhaus, Microeconomics (1989) and Macroeconomics (1989).

Samuelson was president of the Econometric Society (1951), the American Economic Association (1961), and the International Economic Association (1965-1968). In 1970 he was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics, the first American economist to be so honored. In 1991 MIT established the Paul A. Samuelson Professorship in Economics in his honor. In 1996 Samuelson received the Medal of Science, the nation's highest award in science and engineering, for his contributions to economic science, education and policy and for establishing both the agenda of modern economics and scientific standards for economic analysis. He received honorary degrees from a host of colleges and universities. He delivered, among many other prestigious lectures, the Stamp Memorial Lecture (London, 1961), the Wicksell Lectures (Stockholm, 1962), and the Franklin Lecture (Detroit, 1962).

Samuelson, a leading figure in the new, more activist intelligentsia, was an advisor to President's Kennedy, Johnson and their Councils of Economic Advisers, government agencies, and other public and private institutions. His frequent appearances on television and radio and in the printed media made Samuelson's name, and his economic views on vital economic issues, widely familiar. He, along with several other MIT faculty members, made President Nixon's "enemies list" for his harsh criticism of the economic policies of the Nixon administration. The economics profession became accustomed, over three decades, to hearing MIT students proclaim, with justifiable pride, that they were taught by Professor Samuelson. In a much broader sense, he taught more economics to more of the world's citizenry than any other economist of the 20th century.

Further Reading

Information on Samuelson was in Lawrence Boland, The Methodology of Economic Model Building: Methodology After Samuelson (1989); John Cunningham Wood and Ronald Woods, Paul A. Samuelson: Critical Assessments (1989); E. Cary Brown and Robert M. Solow, Paul Samuelson and Modern Economic Theory (1983); George Feiwel, Samuelson and Neoclassical Economics (1982); Marc Linder, The Anti-Samuelson (1977); Ben B. Seligman, Main Currents in Modern Economics: Economic Thought since 1870 (1962); and in Robert Lekachman, The Age of Keynes (1966). □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Paul Anthony Samuelson." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Paul Anthony Samuelson." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/paul-anthony-samuelson

"Paul Anthony Samuelson." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/paul-anthony-samuelson

Samuelson, Paul Anthony

Paul Anthony Samuelson, 1915–2009, American economist, b. Gary, Ind., grad. Univ. of Chicago (B.A., 1935), Harvard (M.A., 1936; Ph.D., 1941). Appointed a professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1941, he later (1966) became institute professor, the highest professorial rank at the school. A liberal and a supporter of applied Keynesian economics, Samuelson held a variety of governmental positions. He was a consultant to the National Resources Planning Board (1941–43) and the U.S. Treasury (1945–52). As an adviser to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, he helped shape tax legislation and antipoverty efforts in the 1960s; he also tutored other American and world leaders in liberal economic principles. In 1970, Samuelson was the first American to receive the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, awarded on behalf of his efforts to "raise the level of scientific analysis in economic theory." His contributions to the systematization of economic theory's underlying mathematical structure are probably unequaled by any other 20th-century economist, and he developed a large number of groundbreaking theorems that contributed enormously to contemporary economic thought and practice. His introductory textbook, Economics (18th ed. 2005), now coauthored with W. Nordhaus, is a standard work in its field; it has introduced generations of students to Keynsian economics (see Keynes, John Maynard). Originally published in 1948, it has been widely translated. His other writings include Foundations of Economic Analysis (1947, enl. ed. 1983), Collected Scientific Papers (3 vol., 1966), and numerous articles in Newsweek magazine, to which he was a longtime contributing editor and columnist.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Samuelson, Paul Anthony." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Samuelson, Paul Anthony." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/samuelson-paul-anthony

"Samuelson, Paul Anthony." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/samuelson-paul-anthony