Paul A. Samuelson: Cafeteria Keynesian

Paul A. Samuelson

Paul A. Samuelson

Paul A. Samuelson was born in 1915 in Indiana. When he was a little boy, his parents moved to Chicago, therefore he went to school there. He also pursued his bachelor studies in mathematics at University of Chicago. Then, he went to Harvard and received his masters in 1936 and his Ph.D. in 1941 from there. His doctoral thesis, as many believe, laid the fundamental basis for the integration of economics and mathematics.

Upon graduation from Harvard, he started his career at MIT and remained there for the rest of his professional career. Throughout his lifetime, he always sought to use mathematics with economics to address real world problems and issues. In one of his greatest works, the correspondence principle, he studied the link between aggregate stability of a certain economic system and the behavior of the individuals within it.

Samuelson, who called himself the ‘cafeteria Keynesian’, combined the old neoclassical theories and the Keynesian microeconomics, coining the concept of neoclassical synthesis. According to this so-called synthesis, the intervention of governments is necessary for the economy to achieve its full capacity of employment. His famous book, Economics: An Introductory Analysis, has sold more than a million copies, making it the bestselling book in economics.

In 1947 he was awarded the John Bates Clark Medal from the American Economic Association as the living economist under forty “who has made the most distinguished contribution to the main body of economic thought and knowledge.” Samuelson was later appointed as the president of the association in 1961. He also served as the president of the Econometric Society in 1951. However, and most importantly, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics in 1970 for “the scientific work through which he has developed static and dynamic economic theory and actively contributed to raising the level of analysis in economic science.” In 1996, he received the National Medal of Science award.

National medal of science 1996 / AFP - Getty Images

National medal of science 1996 / AFP – Getty Images

Samuelson also worked as the advisor of two American presidents: John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. He was also a consultant of United States Treasury and the Bureau of Budget at the time.

Samuelson died on December 13, 2009 in Massachusetts. He was 94 by the time. “There has never been, and will never be, anyone to match him,” reflected Paul Krugman on his career.


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Further reading

Fifty major economists, Steven Pressman

Paul A. Samuelson – Biographical

Paul Samuelson

Paul Anthony Samuelson

Economist Paul A. Samuelson, Dies at 94

Paul Samuelson: The incomparable economist

Samuelson and the evolution of modern economics

Paul Samuelson’s Legacy


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