Samuelson and Schumpeter
| Peter Klein |
Paul Samuelson, the enormously influential economic theorist, textbook writer, and teacher, died yesterday. The Times calls him “the foremost academic economist of the 20th century,” which may be true, depending what’s meant by “foremost.” He was certainly brilliant, talented, and creative. His Foundations of Economic Analysis (1949) changed forever the way economists think about their discipline (formerly a distinct, mostly verbal, logical science, economics became a branch of classical mechanics). His textbook Economics established a new style for introductory texts: lengthy, comprehensive, but ad hoc and unsystematic (Murray Rothbard called it a “vast potpourri . . . of bits and smidgens of technique and of data, none of them integrated into any sort of digestible or comprehensible whole”).
The blogosphere is beginning to spew out commentary, not all of it flattering (Krugman fawns, Ed Glaeser and Arnold Kling are more nuanced, Yuri Maltsev is gracious, Mario Rizzo is blunt). I don’t have much to add specifically for O&M readers, but I’m curious about one issue that may not get much play: the influence on Samuelson’s thought of Joseph Schumpeter, Samuelson’s dissertation supervisor at Harvard.
In many ways, they were opposites: Schumpeter the flamboyant, dramatic innovator, Samuelson the careful, rigorous systematizer; Schumpeter the defender of capitalism and critic of Keynes, Samuelson the interventionist and foremost American Keynesian; Schumpeter, someone I greatly admire, Samuelson. . . . well, you get the picture. Both were brilliant and egocentric (you all know the Schumpeter quip about wishing to become the greatest horseman, economist, and lover in Vienna, but achieving only two of the three; Samuelson once declared, “I can claim in talking about modern economics I am talking about me”).
Samuelson is mentioned in the Schumpeter biographies, including McCraw’s, mostly to illustrate Schumpeter’s enthusiasm for Samuelson’s brand of mathematical economics, which Schumpeter greatly admired even if he himself was not a practitioner. Samuelson has written a bit on his old teacher, mostly to praise Schumpeter’s brilliance (and celebrate his quirkiness, particularly in the classroom), but not much on Schumpeter’s specific theoretical contributions. (Here is Samuelson’s 1951 paper “Schumpeter as a Teacher and Economic Theorist,” which is a good read but not, ultimately, very informative; here is Samuelson’s critique of Schumpeter’s theory of equilibrium interest rates). Samuelson certainly didn’t give the entrepreneur a prominent place in his own system (here is a technical paper on innovation); what did he think of Schumpeter’s account of entrepreneurship and economic change?