An exploration of the relation between the architect of the neoclassical synthesis and twentieth-century economists from other schools of thought
Paul Samuelson, the first American economist to win the Nobel memorial prize, a key figure in one of the world’s top-ranked economics departments, the creator of many of the methods of modern economics and architect of the neoclassical synthesis. He is in one sense the embodiment of orthodox economics. Indeed, his eminence makes it tempting to define orthodoxy as Samuelsonian economics. However, unlike many of his contemporaries, he engaged deeply with many economists who were critical of modern economics. He once told a student that the world’s greatest economist was Joan Robinson, and he admired Piero Sraffa. He wrote about Marxian and Radical economics, often critically but taking them more seriously than many economists were willing to do. In addition, there are features of his work that, at least today, look distinctly non-neoclassical. This talk, which discusses work that is still in progress, offers a preliminary attempt to understand Samuelson through considering his relationship to some currently unfashionable approaches to economics, focusing on his Keynesianism, the neoclassical synthesis, his work on linear modelling and the capital controversy.
Roger E. Backhouse, FBA is Professor of the History and Philosophy of Economics at the University of Birmingham and Erasmus University Rotterdam. He has published on a wide range of topics in history of economics and economic methodology. The first volume of his intellectual biography of Paul Samuelson was published by Oxford University Press in 2017 (Founder of Modern Economics: Paul A. Samuelson. Volume 1: Becoming Samuelson).
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