Paul Samuelson RIP

Paul Samuelson, whose analytical work laid the foundation for modern economics, died Sunday in Belmont, Mass., after a brief illness. He was 94.

From a Stanford University Hoover Institute’s Digest

World-class economist Paul Samuelson, a Nobel laureate, wrote in the tenth edition of his textbook Economics:It is a vulgar mistake to think that most people in Eastern Europe are miserable.” This, mind you, in the aftermath of the 1953 East German uprising, the 1956 Hungarian uprising and the Poznan protests in Poland, the 1968 revolution in Czechoslovakia— all suppressed with bloodshed by Soviet tanks. In the eleventh edition, he took out the word “vulgar.” In the 1985 twelfth edition, that entire passage had disappeared. Instead, he and his coauthor, William Nordhaus, substituted a sentence asking whether Soviet political repression was “worth the economic gains.” This non-question was identified as “one of the most profound dilemmas of human society.” After 70 years of Leninism, Stalinism, and Maoism that took at least 100 million lives, this was still a dilemma?

It seemed to me utterly incredible that an otherwise great economist could parrot idiotic Marxist propaganda. At a time when the magnitude of the Soviet economic disaster was apparent even to the most willfully blind Marxists in Central Europe and the USSR, the 1985 Samuelson text offered this paragraph about the Soviet economy:

But it would be misleading to dwell on the shortcomings. Every economy has its contradictions and difficulties with incentives—witness the paradoxes raised by the separation of ownership and control in America. . . . What counts is results, and there can be no doubt that the Soviet planning system has been a powerful engine for economic growth.

But, as it turned out, there hadn’t been any economic growth for years.

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One thought on “Paul Samuelson RIP

  1. With time, I believe the mathematical “problem solving” orientation of twentieth-century economics will be viewed as piece-meal and insufficient, especially as we look at the viability of the market-mechanism itself in the wake of the financial crisis. Relatedly, Samuelson’s “mathematization” of economics treats the discipline as though it were a science–ignoring the inherent limits to prediction of a human system, whether social, political or economic. For more, pls see http://euandus3.wordpress.com/2009/12/14/paul-samuelson-the-20th-century-economist-has-passed/

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