December 15, 2009

Paul Samuelson

Paul Samuelson died. His economics text taught plenty of people the basics of economics (guns and butter, to start with). I count myself among them, though "taught" might be stretching things a bit far in my case.

True story: A friend and I once made our way through the corridors of MIT in search of Samuelson's office, to try to pay our respects. We found it, but he wasn't in. We stood in front with our heads bowed anyway.

Go well, Mr Samuelson. There are many who remember you.


Anonymous said...

A giant, no doubt. It is said of mathematics (don't know who) that while the original papers - even quite famous ones - are not read after some time, mathematicians have their own way of remembering their greats by incorporating their names into various mathematical terms: think of Banach space, Hilbert space and the like.

Modern Economic theory, being largely mathematical, does something similar. I don't think many economics graduates read Samuelson's original papers or books (not his textbook but say, his "Foundations of Economic Analysis") any more but they do remember him through such terms as "Samuelson condition" and the like.

The mathematical bent of modern economic theory is largely due to Samuelson himself. Needless to say, this is not to the liking of everyone and the subject has been criticised for using "too much mathematics." I have no idea what this means or what exactly is the "right" level of mathematics. But it is worth noting that Paul Samuelson himself anticipated the strong reactions to the changes that he himself was instrumental in bringing about. For a defense of economic theory, I'd recommend Sir Partha Dasgupta's "Modern Economics and its Critics." (Those interested can locate it through a web search.)

Chandru K said...

In one textbook written by Samuelson and Scott, there is a derogatory reference to India, in comparing it with Japan. Japan is projected as a country with a high growth rate, which is attributed to its contact with the outside world. Whereas India's growth rate 'barely shows up' on the graph, to use the author's words. What these guys didn't say was that at the time the textbook was written(70's), high economic growth was not on the agenda in India. It was really only after 1990 that India assigned high growth a priority. Strange that professional economists would miss such an important fact about a country: namely, it's philosophy or ideology at that particular time.

Shastri JC Philip said...

"There are many who remember you. "

And there are many, like me a teacher, who are awed by what one teacher was to his pupils or followers.

Shastri Philip