Quotations by and about Paul Samuelson

by on December 13, 2009 at 9:37 pm in Economics | Permalink

You'll find a bunch here.  Here is his seminal piece on public goods, three pages long.  Here are quotations in appreciation of Samuelson, from Summers, Bernanke, and others.  Lucas offered the following:

“Samuelson was the Julia Child of economics, somehow teaching you the basics and giving you the feeling of becoming an insider in a complex culture all at the same time. I loved the Foundations. Like so many others in my cohort, I internalized its view that if I couldn’t formulate a problem in economic theory mathematically, I didn’t know what I was doing. I came to the position that mathematical analysis is not one of many ways of doing economic theory: It is the only way. Economic theory is mathematical analysis. Everything else is just pictures and talk.”


It's mesmerizing to watch the rate at which the Twitter feed is adding messages.

You'll find free pdfs of some of his major articles here.

1 John Smith December 13, 2009 at 9:42 pm

I noticed this one: “Funeral by funeral, theory advances.”

2 Bill Stepp December 13, 2009 at 9:53 pm

From p. 389 of Samuelson’s article:

“The failure of market catallactics in no way denies the following truth: given sufficient knowledge the optimal decisions can always be found by scanning over all the attainable states of the world and selecting the one which according to the postulated ethical welfare function is best. The solution ‘exists’; the problem is how to ‘find’ it.”

How preposterous is this! Didn’t Samuelson’s balloon ever land?
He would have been right at home working for Uncle Joe, Field Marshall Franklin, or The Missouri A-Bomber.

3 Bill Stepp December 13, 2009 at 9:58 pm

There is a fairly rich irony in Samuelson. On the one hand, he thought that stock prices were unpredictable.
Yet he thought he could figure out your social welfare function (whatever that is).
Do you know your social welfare function? It’s 10 pm–do you know where your kids are?

4 Adam December 13, 2009 at 10:34 pm

What is amazing about it?

5 JumboTron December 13, 2009 at 10:53 pm

“What is amazing about it?”

Its amazing how if, in any field, someone with liberal beliefs succeeds at anything, libertarians do their damndest to discredit their accomplishments in that field. I’ve heard people on this site talk about how Chomsky’s has been discredited and how Krugman’s New Trade Theory is all wrong and now that Samuelson has died its time once again to try to rebut whatever mathematical proofs he came up with (witness Bill Stepp in the previous MR post).

6 C December 14, 2009 at 12:33 am

“Economic theory is mathematical analysis. Everything else is just pictures and talk.”

– I’m just surprised he admitted believing this. I would have thought he would keep this belief a secret. Now, for an analysis of *reality* we can all ignore Lucas and the Chicago School.

7 Don the libertarian Democrat December 14, 2009 at 12:57 am

I thought this interview was very interesting, and says a lot about Samuelson:


“Milton Friedman?

Milton Friedman. Friedman had a solid MV = PQ doctrine from which he deviated very little all his life. By the way, he’s about as smart a guy as you’ll meet. He’s as persuasive as you hope not to meet. And to be candid, I should tell you that I stayed on good terms with Milton for more than 60 years. But I didn’t do it by telling him exactly everything I thought about him. He was a libertarian to the point of nuttiness. People thought he was joking, but he was against licensing surgeons and so forth. And when I went quarterly to the Federal Reserve meetings, and he was there, we agreed only twice in the course of the business cycle. .

That’s asking for a question. What were the two agreements?

When the economy was going up, we both gave the same advice, and when the economy was going down, we gave the same advice. But in between he didn’t change his advice at all. He wanted a machine. He wanted a machine that spit out M0 basic currency at a rate exactly equal to the real rate of growth of the system. And he thought that would stabilize things. “

8 Tom T. December 14, 2009 at 6:53 am

In that picture, they’re all wearing the same suit.

9 Millian December 14, 2009 at 9:59 am

We shouldn’t look at Paul Samuelson’s mathematical economics in our own paradigm if we want to contextualise it correctly. Comparing Samuelson’s Keynesianism to the economics of Keynes himself, one of them can be tested and extended without fear of ambiguity about a point of English language. Economics is already founded enough on assumptions; Samuelson took to heart a recent meme on Robin Hanson’s blog, and insisted that economists list their assumptions at the start of their propaganda.

10 Walt French December 14, 2009 at 10:44 am

“In its extreme form the claim is that everything in economics is about constrained or unconstrained optimization.†

Seems odd to eulogize one of our true Greats, by tarring him with extremist descriptions of his detractors. Passive (irresponsible) voice, unsubstantiated… this is pretty thin soup with which to discuss his work.

11 Beefcake the Mighty December 14, 2009 at 12:42 pm

As an Austrian economist, I’m deeply embarassed by people like Bill Stepp and Mario Rizzo.

12 Rafael G. December 14, 2009 at 3:08 pm

Beefcake the Mighty, why do you?

13 2gb compact flash January 7, 2010 at 12:43 am

Knowledgeable article! Nice that i got an opportunity to know that mathematical analysis is not one of many ways of doing economic theory: It is the only way. Economic theory is mathematical analysis.Paul Krugman link was awesome.Thanks for sharing such a useful post with us.

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