Whoever Heard of Paul Samuelson?

I recently asked a class of mostly junior and senior economics students how many of them knew who Paul Samuelson was.  Not a single hand was raised.  On the one hand, this is good — maybe they have been spared at least some of Samuelson’s Keynesian superstitions, such as “the paradox of thrift” (savings is bad for the economy and causes depressions); that politicians can “fine tune” the economy with monetary and fiscal policy (central planning lives!); the “miracle of the multiplier” (tax a billion out of the pockets of the people, send it the D.C., and it will grow the economy by more than a billion); and other voodoo economics rituals.

But on the other hand, Samuelson was one of the most influential economists of the 20th century, and any economics student who doesn’t know at least something about him and his work is mis-educated. So I filled in a few of the blanks of their education about the influence of his famous textbooks, how he was the architect of turning economics into a series of mathematical engineering puzzles, theorems, corollaries, lemmas, proofs, etc., his prediction in 1989 that the Soviet economy would soon be growing faster than the U.S. economy, etc.

I suspect the reason why these students had never heard of Samuelson is a statement made by a student in another class after learning in my class that there have been not one but several schools of thought in the field of economics:  “I had no idea there were different schools of thought in economics,” he said, “I thought economics was a collection of mathematical equations.”  He had obviously been taught in the Samuelsonian/M.I.T./Paul Krugman tradition without even knowing it.


10:03 am on November 3, 2018