Monday, December 14, 2009

Paul Samuelson Isn't Dead Yet

Today the renowned economist Paul Samuelson died. His legacy made mathematics a central part of graduate economics and his influence is felt today in Obama's economic policies. He basically believed the geniuses he trained at MIT could and should manage the U.S. economy.

Unfortunately, these views still prevail every time Obama steps out and pronounces that we spend more to rejuvenate the economy. Paul Samuelson essentially advocated that when the economy is bad, government should step in and prop it up by spending as a short-term measure to stimulate demand. He basically helped advocate Keynesian economics for a new generation of the best and the brightest in the 1950's and 1960's.

Reading the old timers like Samuelson, John Kenneth Galbraith, and even Keynes is like reading up on early 20th century phrenology or eugenics. It's interesting for the time. But we have a better, or should have by now, a better idea of what's under the hood. No, head size is not a meaningful measure of intelligence. Nor is the idea that any central planner no matter how high an IQ can truly manage the complicated interaction of a vast economy.

Let's hope that as the old masters die away, their ideas die away with them. So that we can finally move ahead and improve the lives of millions of people who are struggling with unemployment, confusion, and bosses who don't know what's going on in the nation's capital.

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