catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Paul Samuelson

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An interview with Paul Samuelson full of many interesting insights:

“My role models were the great economists, conservative economists who at the time were at the University of Chicago. Frank Knight, Jacob Viner, Henry Schulz, Henry Simons, these are great names. And eventually, my very first teacher in economics (it was an introductory course) was a man named Aaron Director, who later became a brother-in-law of Milton Friedman. He was more conservative even than Milton Friedman and would speak of his radical brother-in-law, Milton.” …

Speaking on whether his entry into the field of economics was the result of solely random chance, Samuelson said, “Perhaps more important than the… role of casual luck was the salutary fact that economics was just right for me. This field was then entering a mathematical phase in both theory and statistics. As a precocious youngster, I had always been good at logical manipulations and puzzle-solving IQ tests. So if economics was made for me, it can be said that I too was made for economics. Never underestimate the vital importance of finding early in life the work that for you is play.

And here are some very Popperian bits from the interview (though I think Samuelson is being far too self-deprecatory):

However, beyond his contributions to the field, Samuelson and economics share a similar life story. Economics is a field, perhaps more than most others, that is characterized by mistakes. From its infant days, economics has stumbled. Every year William Nordhaus, Yale professor and long-time coauthor of Samuelson’s seminal textbook, tells his intermediate microeconomics class how Isaac Newton accidentally established the gold standard when he served as England’s Minister of Finance …

People often view mistakes in a bad light. But Paul Samuelson, like economics itself, has recognized that mistakes are an inevitable, if not necessary, step. Samuelson modestly admitted to his own blunders. “Milton Friedman and I have had parallel careers. But he probably never made an error in his life. I’ve made lots of errors in my life. I know better than anybody else does that you have to try out hypotheses that may not turn out to be true.” Luck plays a tremendous role in any endeavor, and even the greatest thinkers are likely to experience setbacks. Mistakes may be the result of negligence, but they can also be the result of extreme effort in the search for truth. The key is the relationship between the two. Samuelson not only recognizes the value in falling to get up again, he promotes it. “My own credo,” he said proudly “is ‘Be wrong! Yes, but don’t stay wrong.’”

Samuelson on his role as JFK’s advisor (which eventually led to the Kennedy tax cuts):

“…[Kennedy] wanted to recruit me. But I didn’t want to. As I told him, I wasn’t for you, I was for Stevenson. He said he didn’t want my vote and he told me, ‘Well if you think you have some policies that can help our country, here’s your chance.’ Well, I wasn’t sure. His father was an SOB and an appeaser to Hitler, and everyone knew this. And Kennedy was a Catholic. And at that time, no Catholic had ever been President… Anyways, what I decided was that this country was too important to be run by John Kenneth Galbraith or Walter Russell. …

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Written by Admin

June 15, 2006 at 8:33 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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