The death of influential, Nobel-winning economist Paul A. Samuelson led us to review his life and ideas. We discovered he was uncle to President Obama's top economic adviser, Lawrence Summers.
Atlantic interview. This June interview with Samuelson at the Atlantic Monthly site shows how sharp the 94-year-old was. On the influence of his work, he said, "every time some economics textbook writer sued another textbook writer for plagiarism, it never got anywhere because the judge would just say, 'it's all Samuelson lite.' " On his ideological rival Milton Friedman, he said, "I should tell you that I stayed on good terms with Milton for more than 60 years. But I didn't do it by telling him exactly everything I thought about him."
Nobel notes. At the Web site of the Nobel Foundation, this page about Samuelson and his 1970 prize begins by quoting the laureate's description of himself: "In this age of specialization, I sometimes think of myself as the last 'generalist' in economics." The frequently revised textbook he wrote initially in 1947, Economics: An Introductory Analysis, has sold millions of copies. He once summed up his chief worry about the economy this way: "In short, I fear inflation. And I fear the fear of inflation."
Samuelson vs. Friedman. As noted, Samuelson sparred for decades with the free-market economist Milton Friedman, coauthor of a competing tome. In this PBS NewsHour report after Samuelson's death, economics journalist David Warsh reflects on the laureates' differences.
Lawrence Summers. WhoRunsGov.com describes itself as a source of profiles of Washington "players and personalities." Summers, Samuelson's nephew and a top Obama aide, was a controversial president of Harvard University. And it turns out that Samuelson isn't Summers' only uncle with a Nobel. Another uncle, Kenneth Arrow, shared the economics prize in 1972. Summers is quoted as saying he went into the family business because, "I wasn't any good at math or physics."