*Founder of Modern Economics: Paul Samuelson*

That is the new and truly excellent biography of Paul Samuelson, by Roger E. Backhouse, volume I alone, which covers only up to 1948, is over 700 pp.  So far I find it gripping, here is one bit:

…he ascribed his intelligence to genetics: “I began as an out-and-out believer in heredity.  My brothers and I were smart kids.  My cousins all weighed in above the average.  He was congenitally smart and made no secret of it, at one point noting in the early 1950s he was prescribed some medication that dulled his mind, giving him for the first time insight into “how the other half lives.”

Are you up for a 14 pp. discussion of what Samuelson learned from Gottfried Haberler?  I sure am…and if you are wondering, Lawrence Klein was the first student to complete a PhD in economics at MIT.


Hey, if that is true, all we need is to get over that Nazi roadbump, and breed for a master class of economists - and finally prove that average is over. Making it one small step for an economist, and one giant leap of faith for everyone else.

What a tragedy that none of his relatives appear to have gone into Economics! What a misuse of talent.

I guess they preferred to go into fields where people accomplish things.

His nephew, Lawrence Summers, went into economics and he is no slouch.

If the Samuelson clan is so smart, how come his nephew was so stupid as to get himself fired from a pretty good job for publicly admitting a belief that human biodiversity affects IQ? Huh?


The hedge fund payed more.

It is a phoney myth that Summers got fired over his comments about women and intelligence. That fight weakened him, but he survived it. What did him in was lying to the Harvard faculty about protecting Andrei Shleifer regarding his Russian corruption problem. Top Harvard faculty who defended Summers on the women fight turned against him on the lying about covering for Shleifer fight, and that was that. Dave Warsh has published accounts of this, but ignorami like you, Steversir, continue to spread this particular piece of fake news. Not a good sign of the level of your intelligence. Were your parents morons?

He survived for a year or so after the women brouhaha.

We already do this by selecting spouses within around two-thirds a standard deviation of IQ of ourselves. There is a large hereditary component to intelligence.

We're doing it, we're gonna have great genes, the best genes, I'll know how to manage the genes. This dysgenic stuff under Obama, we're putting an end to it, I'm telling you. You know how I always talk about getting the best people, this is what I mean. .

Fake. The Real Donald Trump would never stay on a topic as long as written above.

Todd K is such an overrated commenter, what biased lies about my abilities. I tell you, we've got great genes in my family, you've got to have the right genes. Todd K, I'll bet he doesn't have the right genes. What a race traitor. Sad!


Somehow reading your comments the voice of DT takes over my mind.

Yuge genes.

If there aren't Nazis around, or supremacists of other types, it's a little easier to discuss that genes are probably involved in observed genius.

I wonder what medication that was.

Keynesian icon Paul Samuelson stated in the 1961 edition of his famous economics textbook that USSR GNP was half that of the U.S. but was growing faster... and would exceed the U.S. as early as 1984 or perhaps as late as 1997. By the 1980 edition, Samuelson slipped those dates to 2002/2012, but stuck firmly to his "brilliant" economic analysis of the Soviet economy. Samuelson kept predicting Soviet economic dominance up until 1989.

Samuelson’s predictions were echoed in most other major economics textbooks of his time. Obviously, they all got it wrong-- except for the Austrian economists.

Yup, this guy was not a good economist. He was just another MIT rope a dope there to justify state power and control.

Yup, this guy was not a good economist.

This has to be one of the stupidest, least-informed comments on the Internet.

Don't bet on it.


Really? A guy known for mathematically modeling economic value? A garbage theory and completely math-turbation. He should have stopped the jealously with physics and starting thinking of humans in Praxeological terms.

"they all got it wrong– except for the Austrian economists"

Milton Friedman was the leading voice against Keynesianism and Socialism in the economic profession since the 60s and he was rather a neoclassical, not an Austrian.

I have the portuguese version of one of the 1980s editions, and he does not say that.

What Samuelson says is something like that "If USSR maintained its growth rate, it will surpass the USA by [some year], but this is unlikely because the big growth of USSR economy is simply the result of big accumulation of capital (and then, subject to decreasing returns), not of technological innovations; planned economies does not seem to have the incentives to innovate like the market economies"; the words are not exactly these, but the general idea is that.

It is curious that some idiots pick a subset of Samuelson wrote and pretend that he wrote the opposite of he really wrote.

This is a complicated matter, and I published in JEBO the paper by Levy and Peart that discussed the matter in detail. You are at least partly right, Miguel. Samuelson always provided a pretty solid critique of the problems of centrally planned command socialist economies of the Soviet type, including their tendencies to static inefficiency and longer run technological stagnation, and he had that from pretty much his earliest editions. But it is also true that he was slow to recognize that the data had changed and that once were into the 1970s, even the official data showed a slowing, especially if one took account of the fact that a lot of what was propping up the still not too bad official growth numbers was high oil prices during that decade. When those finally fell in the mid-80s, that was the death knell.

So the critics have tended to overwhoop it up about Samuelson getting it wrong and being an ideological ;pusher. But it is also true that he did get it wrong, especially in his later editions where he should have revised his discussion of the empirical data.

"he ascribed his intelligence to genetics": well so do I, in large measure. But it's interesting that so intelligent a man can make the elementary logical error of justifying the conclusion by "My brothers and I were smart kids. My cousins all weighed in above the average." Rather dim, really.

Intelligence does not necessarily prove coherence or consistency. And it certainly does not make one immune to bias.

Not if he sees the same pattern in all the other families. People understood that intelligence, personality and behaviors "ran in families" before they ever knew about natural selection.

You miss the point. "running in families" could result from genetics or from nurture. You have to be a bit subtler to distinguish the effects.

And that's why there has always been so much discussion of good upbringing and good character? I don't recall much use of physiognomy (etc) in marriage pairing.

Most people understand that upbringing is most of the story, unless their children's ultimate independence (and thus failure to become what the parent wanted them to be) leads them to believe the child is a total failure. (Ignoring serious exceptions, such as heroin addiction stories, etc., which are rather more complicated than straightforward as a general issue.)

Well we don't know where this bit occurs in the biography. It begins with "he ascribed" and "I began as", so it could be something that he once believed but eventually came to understand more fully.

While no doubt Samelson was a founder, and like the Jesuits he did good to brainwash the young with his excellent textbook, isn't it true he simply put some shopworn and arguably incomplete economic truths in closed-form solution, continuous mathematics form? Samuelson in other words is an overrated (but not as much as Friedman) educator of economics who worked with pencil and paper because powerful desktop computers were not yet invented. Next!

Very unfair to the Jesuits at their best, Mr. Lopez. Samuelson was smarter than me when it comes to thinks like regression analysis, in the same way Jean-Claude Killy is going to get down that mountain on skis faster than me no matter what I do, but - I am half a century younger than Samuelson, and if I wanted to I too could make jokes, which nobody would care much about or feel much like criticizing, about how Samuelson looks sort of formaldehydish at this point in time. But... at ***that*** point in time, when he was young and full of beans, who could have known that underlying economic truths would be so resistant to number crunching even at the sprezzatura level practiced by Samuelson? Also, what is with the hatred of Jesuits? Would you have sacrificed, for the good of others, what the average Jesuit sacrificed? No you would not have, is my guess, and so you have no right to criticize the average Jesuit. You know that, don't you? And if your complaint is about the below-average Jesuits, why don't you name them by name? Remember, we all are called to speak of each other as we would wish to be spoken of by others ourselves. If you want to learn about Jesuits, a good place to start, from someone who deeply understands your cynical liberal world view, is Waugh's rather manic but almost completely accurate bio of the Jesuit martyr Edmund Campion (to make it sound more interesting, he (Campion, not Waugh) was sort of like the top wrangler and highest-V student at Oxford of his day, not by a little but a lot). Anyway, happy reading - Waugh on Campion is a fairly inexpensive prose work here in 2017.

If Waugh on Campion is too long for you, try Paul to the Philippians (about a forty minute read). Just as the Song of Songs, in the Hebrew scriptures, is an atypical oasis of complete respect between the writer (Solomon, inspired by God) and the audience, the Epistle to the Philippians is the one book in the New Testament where you will search in vain for criticism of any kind, no matter how well-meant, by the writer (Paul, inspired by God) of the audience (the Philippians, first and foremost). Important in its way, right? Maybe It sounds dumb to say of someone that they, like Nietzsche, are remarkably deficient in understanding respect for their equals: but it is not dumb, and the Song of Songs and the Epistle to the Philippians explain why, a hundred times better than I could. (Snoopy had a philodendron for a reason!)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evelyn_Waugh#Conversion_to_Catholicism - interesting guy, fought in Greece, mentally unstable, snob, Luddite, and a gifted writer. I got enough on my plate to read him (I confused him with Wodehouse). I will try "Ray to the Philippines", God willing. Thanks!

It goes without saying that you are welcome.

Fired from the army on the assumption that when they went into action his men would probably shoot him.

Read "Scoop". Well worth it.

Samuelson never ran a regression in his life,even if his first grad student won a Nobel Prize for his role in developing modern econometrics (L.Klein).

With the help of Arthur Goldberger...

Goldberger deserved to share the prize with Klein.

BTW, Art Goldberger never worked with Samuelson. He was Klein's student and assistant.

Samuelson was primarily a theorist, but he also was a keen observer of policy and the real world without getting himself dirty with actually carrying out regressions and such like. He had his own students and assistants for that, starting with Klein.

"Samuelson never ran a regression in his life": I believe you, but am sort of surprised. I will definitely skim this bio when it becomes available.

re Klein being the first MIT econ PhD. He was perforce the first MIT econ PhD to win a Nobel prize. That day, Frank Fisher noted said fact and adjured his graduate econometrics class to "practice practice practice!".

It is well known among Mensans that intelligence alone does not confer success - and indeed can sometimes get in the way.
As an example, I am picturing in my mind one of those 50's/60's sword and sandal flicks where the body builder hero gets thrown into the belly of a slave ship, to row endlessly. As he works one side, his arm on that side grows to magnificent strength, while the rest of him remains at skinny 90-lb weakling status. Now he uses that strength for everything!

The rest of the body gets ignored. Clearly, if that arm was IQ, then what of the social intelligence and skills? All of the other intelligences that are required for success? They are frequently weak compared to "the other half". You don't think we wore pocket protecters out of a sense of style, did you?

Be that as it may, in those Hollywood flicks the one-armed economist ends up bringing down the temple and/or slaying his overlords. Can the present be like a Hollywood B-movie? TC says so: 'average is over'. What counts today is not being a Renaissance man but a one-armed freak of nature, fit for Barnum & Bailey circus!


Many smart people are interested in EVERYTHING! Distracted people have a hard time achieving "success" as society defines it.

Selecting from the group of geniuses with time to join a club for geniuses is probably a very biased sample. Probably mostly in good ways, but maybe a bit in bad ways.

Don't they spend more time doing nifty puzzles than working on serious stuff? Let's go take over MENSA so we can force them to do whatever I think is better for them to do? (Maybe a bit why many are there in the first place ...)

TC sounds like a priest praising the wisdom of the Pope.

Why not? He's an economist.

Two words: Blackboard economics

Samuelson was wrong about a number of things. The Soviet economy matter was very much one of data, regarding which there was much dispute within the US intel establishment. Samuelson rather foolishly went along with the more optimistic (and dominant) estimates. But anybody who thinks that is really stupid should realize that the Soviets themselves were using the CIA numbers for their own central planning because of information issues they had that Hayek understood well.

Another thing Samuelson was wrong about was reswitching and the capital theory debates. He was quicker to admit his error on that one back in 1966.

OTOH, he did a lot more than just put standard neoclassical economics into calculus form. In areas ranging from international trade theory (the recently much cited Stolper-Samuelson theorem) through public economics (clearly definiing the nature of a collective consumption good) through monetary theory (inventing independently of Allais the overlapping generations model of fiat money), among others, he invented or played a major role in doing so very important and influential ideas within numerous fields of economics. Why we tend not to realize how important he was, for good or evil, is that his influence is so pervasive that it has simply gone into the background, the wallpaper, where it is without his name constantly being mentioned when perhaps it should be, again, for better or for worse.

The bit abou tthe CIA numbers being used internally by the Soviets sounds unlikely, probably some remnant of self flattery somewhere along the way.

The main thesis is that the US had extremely subpar information, and this is what led Reagan to think that a massive military spend could put their economy under water. That's a case of very bad information but an arguably excellent and tough decision in the context of what information was available.

Sorrry,Troll me. I have that from primary sources. It is for real. Yes, I do know one hell of a lot more about Russia and the Soviet Union than any of you do, including probably Tyler.

I say evil. Like all the MIT "smart" economists, they reduce human behavior to mathematical modeling and fail miserably.

Won't get much remembrance here on this blog, but I enjoyed Paul Samuelson's Newsweek article "When Giants Walked the Earth and Harvard Yard" way way back.


Mister Cowen always willing to feign diversity, but never a breath for greats like Paul Sweezy

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