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Paul Samuelson, R.I.P.

Updated on March 31, 2011

R.I.P Paul Samuelson, Pre-eminent American Economist

Paul Samuelson, America's most eminent and influential twentieth century economist, died this week at 97. Samuelson was the first American recognized with a Nobel Prize for his contributions to economic theory and the second economist to receive the award.

Samuelson's "Economics," published in 1948, quickly became the most popular introductory economics text book in the world and made Samuelson a millionaire many times over. It was translated into 20 languages and sold 50,000 copies a year half a century after it was first published. Samuelson once said "I don't care who writes a nation's laws--or crafts its advanced treatises--if I can write its economics text books." His text book introduced generations of economists to the ideas of John Maynard Keynes who theorized in the 1930s that modern market economies can become trapped in depression and need a strong push from government spending and tax cuts, in addition to expansionary monetary policy. Thanks to Keynes and Samuelson, the prevailing view of economists no longer accepted the 19th century view that markets would cure unemployment without government intervention.

Samuelson has been called the "father of modern economics" because of his voluminous theoretical papers and books and because several of his students at M.I.T. received Nobel Prizes-- Franco Modigliani, Lawrence Klein, George A. Akerlof, Robert F. Engle, Robert C. Merton, Joseph E. Stiglitz and Paul Krugman.

Samuelson advised President Kennedy on economic policy and turned down Kennedy's offer to make him chairman of his council of economic advisers because he wanted to remain free to express his disagreement with government economic policies with which he disagreed. Nevertheless he continued to provide advice to Kennedy and to Johnson after Kennedy's assassination.

Samuelson was born in Gary, Indiana, into a middle class Jewish family. He attended University of Chicago as an undergraduate and Harvard for his PhD. He accepted an instructorship at Harvard, but left for a better offer of an assistant professorship at M.I.T. where he built the premier economics department in academia. Robert M. Solow, Samuelson's colleague at M.I.T. once said about Harvard's economics department at the time Samuelson left for M.I.T. "You could be disqualified for a job if you were either smart or Jewish or Keynesian. So, what chance did this smart, Jewish Keynsian have?"

Samuelson was one of the few who rate a page one and full page obituary in the New York Times. The NYT obituary is linked below.


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    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 5 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Thanks for your comment. Paul Samuelson was the greatest economist since Maynard Keynes.

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      owolabi olaide 5 years ago

      Paul A Samuelson serves as a role model for me to reduce povert in many country in the future.I will like to follow his wonderful steps in economics.He is truly the father of modern economics.

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      sunilkumar jammula indian 6 years ago

      iam verry happy becuse of agrent person knoeledge shring

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      Sebastian Tjitombo 6 years ago

      As An Economics Scholar, I Mourn The Passing Of A Great Man In Economics And Education As A Whole... He Is Being Missed In The Profession And No Doubt His Legacy Is Living On, I Read Few Of His Thoughts Last Week, May His Soul R.I.P...

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 8 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Thanks for the comments. Samuelson was a giant in the field of economics.

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 8 years ago from South Africa

      Thanks for the info. Fascinating to read again about someone whom I first heard about during the Kennedy administration.\

      Love and peace


    • ethel smith profile image

      Eileen Kersey 8 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      I too have never heard of this man so thanks for the info

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 8 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Thanks for your comments. Samuelson's "Economics" is still on my bookshelf. I'll have to dust if off and refresh my knowledge of economics as I learned it in 1954. Actually my instructor was from somewhere in India, Ompracash Talwar, if I remember his name correctly.

    • kay hebbourn profile image

      kay hebbourn 8 years ago from The Lake District, England

      thanks for that Ralph, I had never heard of him. Thanks for informing me.

    • sabu singh profile image

      sabu singh 8 years ago

      Thank you for this Hub, Ralph. I was one of those 50,000 who bought his book during my MBA programme in 1969. I remember it was very lucid and brought what I always thought was a very dry subject, to life. The obit in the NY Times made me aware of many other facts about this extraordinary man. May his soul rest in peace.

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 8 years ago

      Great hub. Thanks, I read about this remarkable man today.