The greatest living economist has passed away.
This statement is not intended as a subjective judgment of the accuracy of his theories or my opinion of his political views, though both rank very high. It is simply a fact that no economist since John Maynard Keynes has been so influential (and indeed, though Keynes’s theories were more groundbreaking, Samuelson’s may have inspired more intellectual output).
I wish I had the time or the insights to wish him a proper farewell, but alas I am deep in the second draft of my book and would probably have little to add to the many eulogies that will come from across the academic world (for example, Real Time Economics has a smattering of economist reactions). The New York Times has a deservedly long article celebrating his major achievements. I encourage you to read it all.
For more quick-and-dirty versions, try Justin Fox and Paul Krugman. (The EconLib article is also a fairly brief overview, and don’t forget the Nobel website.) For a contrary view, Mario Rizzo is your man. And to hear from the great economist himself, check out Conor Clarke’s excellent interview with him in June of this year: Part One and Part Two. I’ll give the final words to the go-to journalist for the inside scoop on economics, David Warsh:
John Maynard Keynes may have had more influence on policy makers, Milton Friedman on citizens, Kenneth Arrow on economic theory, but Samuelson had more influence on the way economics is done today, and the purposes to which it is put, than any other economist of the twentieth century.
Okay, one last thought: You’re wondering why I included this post in our Christmas series? Because…what better way to honor the late great Paul Samuelson than to make a New Year’s resolution to learn a little bit more about economics, in the hope that every bit of knowledge about the way the world works can make it a better place? That, after all, is the cause to which Samuelson and all great economists dedicate their careers.