Please turn on JavaScript

Brooks Wilson's Economics Blog: The Passing of Paul Samuelson

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Passing of Paul Samuelson

Paul Samuelson, Nobel laureate in Economics, passed away earlier this week leaving an enduring legacy on the field. David Henderson, writing for the Wall Street Journal in, "Why Everyone Read Samuelson" describes that legacy in brief. In part he writes,
Three years after World War II drew to a close, a young professor at MIT published "Foundations of Economic Analysis." Its mathematical approach to economics would revolutionize the profession. And its author, Paul Samuelson, would go on to earn many awards and honors, culminating in 1970, when he won the Nobel Prize in economics—the second year it was awarded. Samuelson died on Sunday at the age of 94.

His influence has been profound, but the mathematization of economics has been a mixed blessing. The downside is that the math hurdle in leading U.S. economics programs is now so high that people who grasp the power of economic concepts to explain human behavior are losing out in the competition to mathematicians.

The upside is that Samuelson sometimes used math to resolve issues that had not been resolved at a theoretical level for decades. As fellow Nobel laureate Robert Lucas of the University of Chicago said in a 1982 interview, "He'll take these incomprehensible verbal debates that go on and on and just end them; formulate the issue in such a way that the question is answerable, and then get the answer."
Samuelson had a standard view of the impact of the minimum wage which he described in his textbook.

One of the best and punchiest statements in the 1970 edition was his comment about a proposal to raise the minimum wage from its existing level of $1.45 an hour to $2.00 an hour: "What good does it do a black youth to know that an employer must pay him $2.00 an hour if the fact that he must be paid that amount is what keeps him from getting a job?"

No comments:

Post a Comment