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“In this age of specialization, I sometimes think of myself as the last ‘generalist’ in economics,” wrote Paul Anthony Samuelson, Professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “with interests that range from mathematical economics down to current financial journalism. My real interests are research and teaching…” His work in economic theory has been in modern welfare economics, linear programming, Keynesian economics, economic dynamics, international trade theory, logic choice and maximization. In terms of economic philosophy, Professor Samuelson calls himself a “‘modern’ economist… in the right wing of the Democratic New Deal economists.”
He was born in Gary, Indiana, in 1915. He received the degree of Bachelor of Arts from Chicago University in 1935, and the degree of Master of Arts in 1936, and Doctor of Philosophy in 1941 from Harvard University. He was a Social Science Research Council predoctoral fellow from 1935 to 1937, a member of the Society of Fellows, Harvard University, 1937-1940, and a Ford Foundation Research Fellow from 1958-1959. He received honorary Doctor of Laws degrees from Chicago University and Oberlin College in 1961, and from Indiana University and East Anglia University (Eng.) in 1966.
Even while a graduate student at Harvard, he had already won international renown and had made significant contributions to economic theory. Confronted by contradictions, overlaps, and fallacies in the classical language of economics, he sought unification—and clarification—in mathematics. In his first major work, Foundations of Economic Analysis, published in 1947, he demonstrated that this approach worked. He told economists that they had been practicing “mental gymnastics of a peculiarly depraved type,” and that they were like “highly-trained athletes who never run a race.” He was not claiming mathematics as the cure-all or end-all of economic analysis, but he was insisting that mathematics was essential to an understanding of what economics was all about.
His Economics: An Introductory Analysis, first published in 1948, has become the bestselling economics textbook of all time. The textbook has sold more than a million copies and has been translated into French, German, Italian, Hungarian, Polish, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, and Arabic. It is now in its fifth edition. “The book’s emphasis on different themes has changed with the changing of the nation’s economic problems,” wrote Business Week in 1959. “The first edition was dominated by the end-of-the-war worry that widespread unemployment would return… later editions put growing stress on fiscal and monetary controls over inflation. In the later editions Samuelson has worked toward what he calls a ‘neoclassical synthesis’ of ancient and modern economic findings. Briefly, his synthesis is that nations today can successfully control either depression or inflation by fiscal and monetary policies… some economists feel that Samuelson’s book… is really his greatest contribution. It has gone a long way toward giving the world a common economic language.”
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