Paul A. Samuelson Biography Economics

Paul Anthony Samuelson and the Scientific Awakening of Economics

Paul The Polymath, Paul Samuelson Biography and Economics

The death of Keynes in 1946 marked the end of the era of British supremacy in economic thought, an era stretching back to Adam Smith. The inheritance passed to the United States of America and the mantle descended upon Haul Samuelson. Thus, the passing of one great Cambridge economist was accompanied by the emergence of another, for Cambridge, Massachusetts has been the intellectual home of Samuelson since the mid-thirties. As part of a community noted for its intellectual leanings Cambridge contains, in particular, two distinguished institutions of re­search and scientific training - Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1935, at the age of twenty, Samuelson made his way to Harvard where, for five years, he was taught economics that was truly iconoclastic. The long established modes of economic analysis, focusing upon a per­fectly competitive, supply-determined world of full employment, gave way to the heresies of monopolistic/imperfect competition and the Keynesian Revolution. Samuelson assimilated these heterodox ideas fully, but the originality and importance of his work stems from the manner in which he harnessed the other Shockwave to hit economics - the mathematical revolution. In 1940 Samuelson moved to MIT and it is highly appropriate that, since then, he has been associated with this institution, renowned for its contributions to the natural sciences, for Samuelson has done more than any other economist to elevate economic analysis to a scientific plane. In the eyes of many of his colleagues, Samuelson is regarded as the doyen of American economists.

Moreover, he commands the respect of generations of students and the public in general. Articles in 'Newsweek' and 'The New York Times' have identified him in a manner rivalled only by Milton Friedman among contemporary economists. The com­prehensive and comprehensible textbook Economics, first publis­hed in 1948, has recently run to an eleventh edition. Among fellow economists, Samuelson's stature is founded upon the quantity and quantity of scientific papers published since 1937, up until 1979, the total stood at just over three hundred. In view of this prolific and diverse output (which does not include the seminal work foundations of economic analysis, nor the contributions to Dorfman, Samuelson and Solow 1958, it is not surprising that Samuelson has received numerous accolades during his career, from both within and outside the economics profession. the crowning moment of his career came in 1970 when he became the second Nobel Memorial Prize winner in Economics, an award made for the development of dynamic and static methods in economic theory and his contributions to the heightening of analytical awareness.

What is quite remarkable about Samuelson is his refusal to sit back on his laurels; in the decade that followed, not only was his scholarly output maintained, but several new and important areas of enquiry were embarked upon. Putting aside, for the moment, any debate about content, Samuelson's writing is invariably impress­ive because of the literacy, wit, urbanity and mathematical sophistication that are displayed.

Possibly I would have done well in any field of applied science or as a writer, but certainly the blend of economics of analytical hardness and humane relevance was tailor-made for me or I for it (1972).

Samuelson's boundless energy and enthusiasm for economics stems from a deep and passionate commitment to the understanding of economic behaviour in the mixed economies of the West. Samuelson's love affair with economic science has been a lasting one; the purpose of this essay is to reveal the origins and evaluate the progeny of this extraordinary symbiosis.