Economist Paul Samuelson, 94, who won a Nobel Prize for his effort to bring mathematical analysis into economics, advised presidents since John F. Kennedy on tax policy and wrote a textbook read by millions of college students, died Sunday at his home in Belmont, Mass.
Economist Paul Samuelson, 94, who won a Nobel Prize for his effort to bring mathematical analysis into economics, advised presidents since John F. Kennedy on tax policy and wrote a textbook read by millions of college students, died Sunday at his home in Belmont, Mass. No cause of death was reported.
For more than three decades, he was a major figure in national and international economics, synthesizing a century of economic insights, many of them apparently at odds with each other, into a coherent point of view.
He was among a circle of JFK advisers, including economists John Kenneth Galbraith and Walter Heller, who led Kennedy to recommend the historic income-tax cut that Congress eventually passed in early 1964.
“A temporary reduction in tax rates on individual incomes can be a powerful weapon against recession,” Mr. Samuelson wrote in a report to Kennedy in early 1961. The cut was widely credited with helping foster the 1960s economic boom.
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More than a dozen years later, he was invited by President Ford to an inflation summit conference, where he told the country America was stricken with a bad case of “stagflation,” a toxic mix of high unemployment and high inflation.
Last January, he predicted in New Perspectives Quarterly that the economy is unlikely to recover from the recession before 2012.
Mr. Samuelson shaped professional and popular attitudes toward economics through his regular columns in Newsweek magazine from 1966 to 1981. (The Robert Samuelson who now writes a business column for Newsweek is no relation.)
But perhaps his most lasting achievement was a 1948 textbook, compiled from his lectures at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Economics” is now in its 19th edition; the more recent editions were cowritten by William D. Nordhaus of Yale. It has sold more than 4 million copies in more than 40 languages.
Born in Gary, Ind., on May 15, 1915, Mr. Samuelson graduated from the University of Chicago in 1935 and received a master’s degree in 1936 and a doctorate in 1941 from Harvard.
He joined the MIT faculty in 1940 after Harvard failed to offer him a job based, at least in part, on his Jewish heritage. He stayed at MIT, building its economics department into a powerhouse, until 1985, when he retired.
He recalled families coming to his own family’s home during the Depression, seeking a handout of a single potato to keep them from starving. That experience, and the blindness of classical economists to the woes of working people who were without jobs, influenced him in college to become a follower of British economist John Maynard Keynes.
Keynes proposed that a nation needs an activist government that could foster low unemployment by steering tax and monetary policies, even if it meant deficit spending at times.