Wed, Dec 16, 2009 - Page 7 News List

First US economist to win Nobel Prize passes away at 94

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Paul Samuelson, Nobel Prize-winning economist and author of the biggest-selling economics textbook in history, died yesterday at his home in Belmont, Massachusetts. He was 94.

Samuelson’s death was announced by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he spent most of his professional life and was a professor emeritus.

Samuelson was a dominating figure in the economics profession in the US from the late 1930s through the 1960s, and his influence on the field is difficult to overstate. His textbook Economics introduced generations of undergraduates to the subject, while his Foundations of Economic Analysis moved economics a long way from the literary exercise it once was to the scientific and mathematical discipline it has become.

Samuelson, or PAS, as he referred to himself, was the first American to receive the Nobel Prize in economics, winning it in 1970 for “raising the level of analysis in economic science.”

“The work he did, with no hyperbole, revolutionized numerous fields, including public finance, international trade and macroeconomics,” said Alan Blinder, a former student of Samuelson’s who went on to become vice chairman at the Federal Reserve.

Even before his Nobel Prize, Samuelson had stacked up a list of accomplishments. He published his first paper when he was 21, won the David A. Wells prize in 1941 for writing the best doctoral dissertation at Harvard University in economics, and was awarded the John Bates Clark medal in 1947, given annually by the American Economic Association to an outstanding economist under the age of 40.

Samuelson began teaching at MIT in 1940 and became a full professor six years later. Three of his graduate students, Lawrence Klein, George Akerlof and Joseph Stiglitz, went on to win Nobel Prizes.

“He had a lively and exciting mind,” said Stiglitz, who maintains that many of Samuelson’s ideas, especially those concerning trade theory and international economics, continue to grow in influence because of globalization. “Some of the work he did 50 years ago is more important today than it was then.”

Indiana University professor Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson, professor emeritus at University of California at Berkeley, this year won the Nobel Prize for economics.

For non-economists, Samuelson’s most important work was his textbook. First published in 1948, the book was widely adopted because it attempted to teach students, in an elementary way, how to analyze everyday questions about the economy, according to Robert Solow, also a Nobel Prize winning economist who wrote several papers and a book with Samuelson.

“His book had a livelier look, a livelier language and above all, it actually taught economics as an activity, as a way of asking and answering questions,” Solow said.

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