Paul A. Samuelson

May 15, 1915 – December 13, 2009

Brief Biography

Nobel prize winner and seminal figure at the intersection of economics, mathematics, and operations research, Paul Anthony Samuelson was born in Gary, Indiana. He and his family relocated to Chicago shortly after the First World War. At sixteen years old, Samuelson enrolled at the University of Chicago and became enamored with economics. He went onto Harvard University after receiving his bachelor’s degree and earned his Masters and PhD. His PhD thesis, Foundations of Economic Analysis, was published by Harvard University Press and was supervised by Joseph Schumpeter. The resulting book laid the groundwork for the field of mathematical economics.

After graduate school, Samuelson accepted a position at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and joined a faculty consisting of some of economics' brightest minds, taking a slight detour to the Radiation Laboratory at MIT and Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. In 1947, he published one of the bestselling economics textbooks of all time: Economics: An Introductory Analysis.

A pervasive theme in Samuelson’s writing is the mathematics of constrained optimization as it applies to economic theory.  Hence In the late forties and fifties, he developed an interest in linear programming along with fellow MIT Professor and 1987 Nobel Prize Winner, Robert M. Solow. Between 1949 and 1958 he published numerous articles on the subject and touched upon its potential in economic application. It was during this period that Samuelson adapted Le Chatelier's principal of equilibrium into a general principal for economics and linear programming. Samuelson presented one of his papers at a Cowles Commission conference who proceedings, published as Activity Analysis of Production and Allocation (1951), was the first general publication that dealt with linear programming. 

With Solow and Robert Dorfman, Samuelson published his greatest contribution to operations research, Linear Programming and Economic Analysis (1958). This book was one of the first to wed econometrics with linear programming, bringing theoretical application to professional industry.

In the 1960s Samuelson served as an economic advisor to the presidential administrations of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson. In this capacity he worked as a consultant to the United States Treasury, the Bureau of Budget, and the Council of Economic Advisors. One of his papers was also included in Utility Theory: A Book of Readings by Alfred N. Page. In 1970, Samuelson became the first American to receive the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. He was lauded “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.”

Samuelson was considered one of the founders of neo-Keynesian economics and wrote a column in Newsweek opposite Milton Friedman, who represented the Monetarist perspective. Samuelson achieved the position of Institute Professor one of the highest and most honorable positions an MIT faculty member can hold. Over the course of his career he taught numerous students who would go on to make meaningful contributions to economics and win the Nobel Prize. He passed away in 2009 after a brief illness. 

Other Biographies

Wikipedia Entry for Paul Samuelson

A&E Biography. Paul Samuelson. Accessed January 30, 2015. (link)

Henderson D. (2008) Paul Anthony Samuelson. Henderson, D ed. The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics, 2nd edition. Library of Economics and Liberty. (link)

MIT Economics. People: Paul A. Samuelson, Nobel Laureate. Accessed January 30, 2015. (link)

Nobel Prize Foundation. Nobel Prizes and Laureates: Paul A. Samuelson. Accessed January 30, 2015. (link)

Education

University of Chicago, BA 1935

Harvard University, MA 1936

Harvard University, PhD 1941 (Mathematics Genealogy

Affiliations

Academic Affiliations
Non-Academic Affiliations

Key Interests in OR/MS

Methodologies
Application Areas

Oral Histories

Paul Samuelson (2009) Interview by Conor Clark, Posted June 17/18. The Atlantic. (Part I: transcript, Part II: transcript)

Paul Samuelson (2007) Interview by Brian Keegan, July 19. The MIT 150 Infinite Oral History Project. (video)

Paul A. Samuelson (2003) Interview by William A. Barnett, December 23. Macroeconomic Dynamics, 8. (transcript)

Obituaries

MIT News Office (2009) Nobel-winning economist Paul A. Samuelson dies at age 94. (December 13). (link)

MIT Video. Paul A. Samuelson Memorial Service. Video. Recorded April 10, 2010. Accessed March 26, 2015. (link)

New York Times (2009) Paul A. Samuelson, Economists, Dies at 94. (December 14) A1. (link)

The Economist (2009) Paul Samuelson, The last of the great general economists died on December 13th, aged 94. (December 17). (link)

The Wall Street Journal Blog. Remembering Paul Samuelson. Published December 13, 2009. Accessed January 30, 2015. (link)

Archives

Paul A. Samuelson Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. (link)

Awards and Honors

John Bates Clark Medal 1947

The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 1970

National Medal of Science 1996 

Selected Publications

Samuelson P. A. (1947) Foundations of Economic Analysis. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA.

Samuelson P. A. (1949) The Le Chatelier principle in linear programming. RAND Corporation: Santa Monica, CA.

Samuelson P. A. (1951) Abstract of a Theorem Concerning Substitutability in Open Leontief Models. Koopmans T. C., ed. in Active Analysis of Production and Allocation. John Wiley & Sons: New York.

Samuelson P. A. (1952) Spatial price equilibrium and linear programming. The American economic review, 283-303.

Dorfman R., Samuelson P., & Solow R. (1958) Linear Programming and Economic Analysis. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Additional Resources

Samuel P. A. (1970) Maximum Principles in Analytical Economics, December 11. Lecture. Transcript. Nobel Prize Foundation. (link)

Samuel P. A. (2006) Is Personal Finance a Science?, October 25. Lecture. Video. Boston University, Boston, MA. (See Below Video)