Paul Samuelson Interview

1 08 2009

I’ve been meaning to note this great interview of Paul Samuelson, probably the single greatest economist of the 20th century following Keynes.

Paul Samuelson

My favorite lines from it are:

Regarding Alan Greenspan,

…he had been an Ayn Rander. You can take the boy out of the cult but you can’t take the cult out of the boy. He actually had instruction, probably pinned on the wall: ‘Nothing from this office should go forth which discredits the capitalist system. Greed is good.’

Regarding the nature of economic science,

There ‘s a lot of causality in economics, even though it’s very far from an exact science.

Regarding the relativeness of ‘rationality,’

I’m not sure most of the people that get caught up in the middle of a bubble can be described as irrational. It seems pretty rational to buy a house and flip it in the next few weeks at a profit when that’s been happening for along time.

Regarding what the coming big developments in economics will be:

Well, I’d say, and this is probably a change from what I would have said when I was younger: Have a very healthy respect for the study of economic history, because that’s the raw material out of which any of your conjectures or testings will come. And I think the recent period has illustrated that. The governor of the Bank of England seems to have forgotten or not known that there was no bank insurance in England, so when Northern Rock got a run, he was surprised. Well, he shouldn’t have been.

But history doesn’t tell its own story. You’ve got to bring to it all the statistical testings that are possible. And we have a lot more information now than we used to.

The full interview, by Conor Clarke, The Atlantic, June 17, 2009 is here.



4 responses

14 12 2009

With time, I believe the mathematical “problem solving” orientation of twentieth-century economics will be viewed as piece-meal and insufficient, especially as we look at the viability of the market-mechanism itself in the wake of the financial crisis. Relatedly, Samuelson’s “mathematization” of economics treats the discipline as though it were a science–ignoring the inherent limits to prediction of a human system, whether social, political or economic. For more, pls see

14 12 2009

I totally agree. The quantitative side of economics as practiced to date needs augmentation by the complementary human science of interpretation aka hermeneutics. See my piece on hermeneutics as applied to dream interpretation.

23 08 2011
John Zicconi

I work for a magazine and I am looking for a high res photo Paul Samuelson at the chalkboard that you have used above. Can you please tell me where you got it and who holds the rights so that I can contact them>

John Zicconi

28 08 2011

sorry. I can’t place the source. It was in a mag like Forbes and I believe it was published a few years back after Samuelson’s death. Googling it ought to recover it.

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