Paul Samuelson, fully Paul Anthony Samuelson

Paul
Samuelson, fully Paul Anthony Samuelson
1915
2009

American Economist, Winner of Nobel Prize in Economics, Author, Professor of Economics at MIT

Author Quotes

I think, without question, that unemployment of more than 6 per cent is something to be concerned about. You don't push the panic button, but you don't relax and enjoy it either... I myself don't believe in a numbers game in which you give a maximum tolerable percentage, because I think, truly, it does vary with the times... I would hesitate to specify the figure today, but I will say this: it would be, in my mind, less than a 4 per cent figure - that is, for the period ahead. I would not, realistically, think we could hope for a 2 per cent figure in the near future, as certain European countries have been able to do. But I do think that if we are pretty zealous in this matter and insist upon getting low figures - say, 3.5 per cent - then our very success in accomplishing that may lead to a new epoch just beyond when we could hope to go below 3 per cent...

The General Theory is an obscure book, so that would be anti-Keynesians must assume their position largely on credit unless they are willing to put in a great deal of work and run the risk of seduction in the process. The General Theory seems the random notes over a period of years of a gifted man who in his youth gained the whip hand over his publishers by virtue of the acclaim and fortune resulting from the success of his Economic Consequences of the Peace.

What good does it do a black youth to know that an employer must pay him $2 an hour if the fact that he must be paid that amount is what keeps him from getting a job?

Economists are not yet agreed how serious this new malady of inflation really is. Many feel that new institutional programs, other than conventional fiscal and monetary policies, must be devised to meet this new challenge. But whatever the merits of the varying views on this subject, it should be made manifest that the goal of high employment and effective real growth cannot be abandoned because of the problematical fear that re-attaining prosperity in America may bring with it some difficulties; if recovery means a reopening of the cost-push problem, then we have no choice but to move closer to the day when that problem has to be successfully grappled with.

If you looked at a transcript afterward, it might seem clear that you had won the debate on points. But somehow, with members of the audience, you always seemed to come off as elite, and Milton seemed to have won the day.

The history of the twentieth century - America's century! - has been pretty much a history of rising prices... inflation is itself a problem. But the legitimate and hysterical fears of inflation are - quite aside from the evil of inflation itself - likely, in their own right, to be problems. In short, I fear inflation. And I fear the fear of inflation. Avoiding inflation is not an absolute imperative, but rather is one of a number of conflicting goals that we must pursue and that we may often have to compromise. Even if the military outlook were serene - and it is not - modern democracies must expect in the future to be much of the time at, or near, the point where inflation is a concern. Our greatest economic problem will be to face that concern realistically, to weigh inflation's quantitative evil against the evils of actions taken against it, to develop methods of adjusting to the residue of inflation which attainment of the 'golden mean' might involve. The challenge is great but the prognosis is cheerful.

When the economy was going up, [Milton Friedman and I] both gave the same advice, and when the economy was going down, we gave the same advice. But in between he didn't change his advice at all.

Economists have much to be humble about.

Instead of burning out like a fad the General Theory is still gaining adherents and appears to be in business to stay. Many economists who are most vehement in criticism of the specific Keynesian policies?which must always be carefully distinguished from the scientific analysis associated with his name?will never again be the same after passing through his hands. It has been wisely said that only in terms of a modern theory of effective demand can one understand and defend the so called "classical" theory of unemployment. It is perhaps not without additional significance. in appraising the long-run prospects of the Keynesian theories, that no individual, having once embraced the modern analysis, has?as far as I am aware?later returned to the older theories. And in universities where graduate students are exposed to the old and new income analyses. I am told that it is often only too clear which way the wind blows. Finally, and perhaps most important from the long-run standpoint, the Keynesian analysis has begun to filter down into the elementary textbooks; and, as everybody knows, once an idea gets into these, however bad it may be, it becomes practically immortal.

The investor who runs a portfolio of five to fifty asset items is (usually) being self-indulgent. The hobby can be an expensive one over forty years of the individual's life cycle. Blowing a thousand dollars a year at the gaming tables of Las Vegas might be a comparative bargain, but of course the gratifications to the ego may be less for many temperaments that are not so much desirous of taking risks as of proving an ability to beat life's odds by personal cleverness.

With respect to the level of total purchasing power and employment, Keynes denies that there is an invisible hand channeling the self-centered action of each individual to the social optimum. This is the sum and substance of his heresy. Again and again through his writings there is to be found the figure of speech that what is needed are certain "rules of the road" and governmental actions, which will benefit everybody, but which nobody by himself is motivated to establish or follow. Left to themselves during depression, people will try to save and only end up lowering society's level of capital formation and saving; during an inflation, apparent self-interest leads everyone to action which only aggravates the malignant upward spiral

Fashion always plays an important role in economic science: new concepts become the 'mode and then are pass‚. A cynic might even be tempted to speculate as to whether academic discussion is itself equilibrating: whether assertion, reply, and rejoinder do not represent an oscillating divergent series, in which?to quote Frank Knight's characterization of sociology?"bad talk drives out good."

Investing should be dull. It shouldn't be exciting. Investing should be more like watching paint dry or grass grow. If you want excitement, take $800 and go to Las Vegas... It is not easy to get rich in Las Vegas, at Churchill Downs, or at the local Merrill Lynch office.

The Keynesian system is indispensable to an understanding of conditions of over-effective demand and secular exhilaration; so much so that one anti-Keynesian has argued in print that only in times of a great war boom do such concepts as the marginal propensity to consume have validity. Perhaps, therefore, it would be more nearly correct to aver the reverse: that certain economists are Keynesian fellow-travelers only in boom times, falling off the band wagon in depression. If time permitted. it would be instructive to contrast the analysis of inflation during the Napoleonic and first World War periods with that of the recent War and correlate this with Keynes' influence. Thus, the "inflationary gap" concept, recently so popular, seems to have been first used around the Spring of 1941 in a speech by the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, a speech thought to have been the product of Keynes himself.

With the assistance of mathematics, I can see a property of the ninety-nine dimensional surfaces hidden from the naked eye. If an increase in the price of fertilizer alone always increases the amount the firm buys of caviar, from that fact alone I can predict the answer to the following experiment which I have never seen performed and upon which I have no observations: an increase in the price of caviar alone will increase the amount the firm buys of fertilizer. In thermodynamics such reciprocity or integrability conditions are known as Maxwell Conditions; in economics they are known as Hotelling conditions in honor of Harold Hotelling?s 1932 work.

For better or worse, US Keynesianism was so far ahead of where it started. I am a cafeteria Keynesian. You know what a cafeteria catholic is?

It is not easy to get rich in Las Vegas, at Churchill Downs, or at the local Merrill Lynch office.

The modern saving-investment theory of income determination did not directly displace the old latent belief in Say's Law of Markets (according to which only "frictions" could give rise to unemployment and over-production). Events of the years following 1929 destroyed the previous economic synthesis. The economists' belief in the orthodox synthesis was not overthrown, but had simply atrophied: it was not as though one's soul had faced a showdown as to the existence of the Deity and that faith was unthroned, or even that one had awakened in the morning to find that belief had flown away in the night: rather it was realized with a sense of belated recognition that one no longer had faith, that one had been living without faith for a long time, and that what, after all, was the difference? The nature of the world did not suddenly change on a black October day in 1929 so that a new theory became mandatory. Even in their day, the older theories were incomplete and inadequate: in 1815, in 1844, 1893, and 1920. I venture to believe that the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries take on a new aspect when looked back upon from the modern perspective, that a new dimension has been added to the rereading of the Mercantilists, Thornton, Malthus, Ricardo, Tooke, David Wels, Marshall, and Wicksell.

Women are men without money.

Herein lies the secret of the General Theory. It is a badly written book, poorly organized; any layman who, beguiled by the author's previous reputation. Bought the book was cheated of his five shillings. It is not well suited for classroom use. It is arrogant, bad-tempered. Polemical, and not overly generous in its acknowledgments. It abounds in mares' nests or confusions. In it the Keynesian system stands out indistinctly, as if the author were hardly aware of its existence or cognizant of its properties; and certainly he is at his worst when expounding its relations to its predecessors. Flashes of insight and intuition intersperse tedious algebra. An awkward definition suddenly gives way to an unforgettable cadenza. When finally mastered, its analysis is found to be obvious and at the same time new. In short, it is a work of genius.

Man does not live by GNP alone.

The niceties of existence were not a matter of concern, yet everything around was closed down most of the time. If you lived in a middle-class community in Chicago, children and adults came daily to the door saying, 'We are starving, how about a potato?' I speak from poignant memory.

Yes, 1932 was a great time to be born as an economist. The sleeping beauty of political economy was waiting for the enlivening kiss of new methods, new paradigms, new hired hands, and new problems. Science is a parasite: the greater the patient population the better the advance in physiology and pathology; and out of pathology arises therapy. The year 1932 was the trough of the great depression, and from its rotten soil was belatedly begot the new subject that today we call macroeconomics.

I cannot agree. According to recent trends of thought, the interest rate is less important than Keynes himself believed? As for expectations, the General Theory is brilliant in calling attention to their importance and in suggesting many of the central features of uncertainty and speculation. It paves the way for a theory of expectations, but it hardly provides one. I myself believe the broad significance of the General Theory to be in the fact that it provides a relatively realistic, complete system for analyzing the level of effective demand and its fluctuations. More narrowly, I conceive the heart of its contribution to be in that subset of its equations which relate to the propensity to consume and to saving in relation to offsets-to-saving. In addition to linking saving explicitly to income, there is an equally important denial of the implicit "classical" axiom that motivated investment is indefinitely expansible or contractible, so that whatever people try to save will always be fully invested. It is not important whether we deny this by reason of expectations, interest rate rigidity, investment inelasticity with respect to overall price changes and the interest rate, capital or investment satiation, secular factors of a technological and political nature of what have you. But it is vital for business-cycle analysis that we do assume definite amounts of investment which are highly variable over time in response to a myriad of exogenous and endogenous factors, and which are not automatically equilibrated to full discussion employment saving levels by any internal efficacious economic process.

Mea culpa, mea culpa. MIT and Wharton and University of Chicago created the financial engineering instruments, which, like Samson and Delilah, blinded every CEO. They didn't realize the kind of leverage they were doing and they didn't understand when they were really creating a real profit or a fictitious one.

Author Picture
First Name
Paul
Last Name
Samuelson, fully Paul Anthony Samuelson
Birth Date
1915
Death Date
2009
Bio

American Economist, Winner of Nobel Prize in Economics, Author, Professor of Economics at MIT