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The eleven principles of economics.

I. Introduction

In 1948, Americans in great numbers were reading Dwight D. Eisenhower's Crusade in Europe and Dale Carnegie's How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. Atop the best-seller list in fiction were two totally different reading experiences: The Big Fisherman by Lloyd Douglas and Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead. That year as well Kinsey's Sexual Behavior of the Human Male approached the top of the best-seller list.

Also in 1948, unmentioned by Publishers Weekly, a textbook authored by a young economist at MIT was published at a suggested retail price of $4.50. The book, entitled Economics, came to outsell Eisenhower and Mailer on war, Carnegie on worrying, Douglas on the Apostle Peter, and even Kinsey on sex. The eleven principles of economics textbooks by Paul A. Samuelson encompass over three publishing decades, 9000 pages of printed text, and a combined weight of 35 pounds for a complete set.(1) The book has been translated into over 30 foreign languages.

Samuelson's eleven principles are an imposing publishing accomplishment, all the more so against the backdrop of the author's other contributions to the discipline.(2) It is as if someone won Wimbledon and also was the game's most popular sportswriter--and then kept on winning Wimbledon and writing about tennis for over forty years.

II. The Birth of the Book

When Samuelson arrived at MIT in October, 1940, the Department of Industrial Economics (difficult as this is to imagine today) was primarily a service department for engineering students required to take an economics course in their junior year. The course was less than popular. To correct this deficiency, Ralph Freeman, then chair of the department, asked Samuelson to prepare fresh material to enhance the student appeal of MIT's economics requirement. The dutiful young colleague, who was teaching three sections of the class, complied with Freeman's request.

Samuelson decided not to make the material mathematical--recognizing MIT students would relish turning economics into puzzle solving. The book instead was written for the engineer who someday would be a knowledgeable and active citizen.

Samuelson though the project would take no more than half a year to accomplish. This forecast proved to be overly optimistic. Three years later Samuelson finished a typewritten manuscript entitled MODERN ECONOMICS: An Introductory Analysis of National Income and Policy. This manuscript, in mimeo form, was assigned to students at MIT but soon became known outside Cambridge. The author already was a leading economist and the document was rumored to have incorporated the theories of John Maynard Keynes.

Publishers large and small beat a path to Samuelson's office hoping to sign the book. But they did not compete on price. Like airlines under CAB regulation, each publisher offered identical royalty rates. Not one firm broke rank. Faced with uniform prices, Samuelson selected McGraw-Hill. One reason was sentimental. McGraw-Hill had published Joseph Schumpeter's two volume work on business cycles. Adding his former teacher's book it its list, notwithstanding the modest sales potential, endeared McGraw-Hill to Samuelson. Another reason was personal. Samuelson liked McGraw-Hill's local book rep for the Boston area.

III. The Distinctiveness of the First Edition

There were three innovations in the first edition of Economics: new principles; new emphases; and new organization. The new principle were Keynesian. The new emphases were on macroeconomics and the problems of maintaining full employment. The new organization was to begin the text with macroeconomics.

The is a fourth innovation for which the book merits notice, if not full credit. At the time Economics appeared, a short-term, regular cycle of revisions was almost unknown among textbooks. With two exceptions, Samuelson's book throughout the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s was revised on a three year cycle.(3) This meant a text could incorporate recent events, data, and policy issues. By the mid-1970s, the three-year cycle had a second rationale: it lessened competition from the used-book market, a feature not overlooked by publisher and author alike.

The impact of the Samuelson text was profound. It became standard-operating-procedure for principles of economics textbooks to contain Keynesian macroeconomic theories, to emphasize the economic problem of maintaining full employment and controlling the business cycle, and to treat macroeconomics ahead of microeconomics. Successful imitators also mimicked the three year revision cycle.

The Keynesian Initiative

Samuelson was not the first principles textbook to incorporate Keynesian teaching. Keynesian precepts first appeared in Lorie Tarshis's The Elements of Economics: An Introduction to the Theory of Price and Employment, published in 1947, one year before the first edition of Samuelson's book (Samuelson did not see the Tarshis book in the preparation of his own).

The Tarshis text states clearly:

. . . the most important subject to be discussed

in this book: the theory of employment. This

theory is in a sense the keystone of our whole analysis [40, 339].

Tarshis praises The General Theory as "the most influential work . . . among English-speaking economists" [40, 346]. His text introduces students to a graphical portrayal of Marginal Propensity to Consume; it defines Y as being equalto C + I; it refers to the equality of Saving and Investment; it defines National Income as primarily a function of MPC and the level of Investment; it describes how the investment component of National Income is unstable; it introduces readers to the relationship between the Marginal Propensity to Consume and the multiplier; and, to complete the elementary Keynesian portfolio, the book describes the Accelerator Effect.

Samuelson's first edition also defines "full employment" as "the central problem of modern economics;" only after this objective is met do other economic problems even merit attention [31, 15]. Samuelson's text, like Tarshis's, introduces students to a graphical portrayal of Marginal Propensity to Consume; it defines Y = C + I; it refers to the equality of Saving and Investment; it defines National Income as a function of MPC and the level of investment; it describes how the investment components of national income is "capricious and volatile" [31, 225]; it introduces readers to the relationship between the Marginal Propensity to Consume and the multiplier; and the book describes the Acceleration Principle.

In 1947-48, this was pathbreaking stuff for a principles text. But if Tarshis got there first, it is legitimate to inquire: why is there not, instead, a "Tarshis legend: in textbook publishing? The brief answer is: Samuelson out-Keynesianized Tarshis.

Samuelson's first edition uses more graphs to teach the new macroeconomic material. Tarshis completes the macroeconomic exposition using six graphs; Samuelson uses twelve. Both numbers seem sparse by today's textbook standards. But for a profession eager to learn and pass on the new theories of Keynes and his disciples, these graphs offered great pedagogical opportunities.

Samuelson not only offered more graphs to those adopting his textbook, but he offered two that were not in The General Theory nor in the Tarshis text: the Keynesian cross and the Circular Flow. The circular flow diagram has its roots in Frank Knight's wheel of wealth, and Samuelson knew of its from his undergraduate days at the University of Chicago [27]. It became an important feature in the new text.(4)

The Keynesian cross Samuelson invented.(5) Its absence in the Tarshis text left that book with all the Keynesian apparatus of MPC, MPS, and the Investment function, but no unifying diagram

The Keynesian cross, or 45 degree line, became the standard format to teach the Keynesian system to principles students. From it students encountered an equilibrium intersection similar to what they would encounter in demand and supply analysis. But unlike the benign equilibria of the demand and supply for wheat and widgets, students learned that macroeconomic equilibria were unpalatable because they were short of full employment (they usually were drawn that way). Mastering the Keynesian cross became a student's rite of passage through the Samuelson text and most of its later rivals.

New theories alone did not differentiate the macro half of Samuelson's Economics. Lloyd Mints, Samuelson's Money and Banking teacher at the University of Chicago, had taught him the mechanics of bank money expansion as developed by Iowa's Chester Phillips. Samuelson placed this material in his text to promote economics as a science. It was a hit in the classroom, at least with teachers, and aided the success of the book.(6)

To further distinguish his textbook, Samuelson made microeconomic theory a side dish.(7) A student reading the first edition did not encounter microeconomic theory until page 447 of the book's 622 pages. Material on demand and supply and its applications, elasticity, the theory of consumer demand, the models of perfect and imperfect competition, the theory of the firm, and marginal productivity theory occupy only 90 pages, less than 15 percent of the book.(8)

Placing macroeconomics first was a priority shared by many teachers of the time who had experienced the great depression. Samuelson was fortunate that when fears of depression lessened, fears of inflation increased, keeping macroeconomic issues prominent in the news. Starting today, Samuelson would reverse the macro-micro sequence of Economics. More instructors now prefer to teach microeconomics first [41, 146].

There is still another factor that helped elevate Samuelson's text over Tarshis's. It came out a year later. The first-mover advantage described by some Industrial Organization economists worked in reverse. It did not pay to be the first kid on the block with the new Keynesian bicycle.

Political Reaction To The First Edition

The first editions of both the Samuelson and Tarshis texts met hostile reaction from the political right. William F. Buckley's God and Man and Yale mentions these texts as two of the undesirable books a student entering Yale might encounter [8, 48-49]. Both were condemned for their alleged aversion to business, their congeniality to income redistribution, and their openness to Keynesian policies.(9)

Samuelson's text benefitted from being a year behind Tarshis's book, which took the initial wave of criticism. Some professors who wanted to teach Keynesian theories were able to dodge flak by adopting the Samuelson textbook, claiming they had elected not to assign the controversial Tarshis text.

Both Tarshis and Samuelson, in their first editions, endeavor to portray Keynesianism as being without a distinct policy mooring. The effort fails more noticeably in Tarshis's book.

Tarshis tries to deflect criticism from the right wing this way:

A word must be said before we begin our analysis,

about the political implications of the

Keynesian theory. This is necessary because there is

so much misinformation on the subject. The

truth is simple. The Keynesian theory no more

supports the New Deal stand or the Republican

stand than do the newest data on atomic fission [40, 347]. A similar thought appears in Samuelson:

The income analysis here described is itself

neutral: it can be used to defend private enterprise as

to limit, as well to attack as to defend fiscal

intervention [31, 253].

Undergraduates may have believed this. Other readers of the book were less sure. The language of neither book is pristinely neutral toward government spending.

For example, in making the case for filling the deflationary gap with government spending, Tarshis claims:

Because public investment, unlike private investment,

is directly under social control, it is easy

to turn on the tap and to turn it off again [40, 513].

Presumably Professor Tarshis never tried to close a military base or terminated a crop support program.

Samuelson's chapter on government spending also is a brief for an activist fiscal policy. But his statements are more guarded than those of Tarshis. Samuelson writes that the United States "can't simply throw a switch when we want more purchasing power and reverse the dial when we want less" [31, 412]. However, the text implies someone should be manipulating the levers of fiscal policy

Samuelson and Tarshis did not realize how far to the left Keynesian thinking was from the business community and critics of the New Deal, though Samuelson got wind of this when his book was being used at MIT in mimeograph form. A wealthy MIT graduate went through the 1945 manuscript and called some 60 "hot spots" to Samuelson's attention. The alumnus suggested that a "good economist" should be hired to revise this version if "only to protect [Samuelson's] reputation."

Samuelson was unpersuaded that his reputation was in danger but met with his detractor and tried to change words so that sinister doctrine could not be read into it. The critic was not satisfied, claiming the list of errors easily could be 500, and not the 60 he and the author reviewed.

Samuelson lost some adoptions as a result of attacks from the right. But unlike Tarshis, Samuelson learned to "write around" these detractors. Critics accused Samuelson of playing games, as they became frustrated by his skills at hedging left-wing policy slants. Samuelson remembers one frustrated adversary concluding: "It isn't what he says, it is what you know he is thinking." Even today, Economics is seen to have this characteristic by free-market proponents.(10)

Early on, Samuelson saw himself as a buffer, using language to protect the instructor at a college which did not have a brave president or provost willing to protect the freedom to teach Keynesian economics. John Kenneth Galbraith has commented on Samuelson's peculiarity:

The wisest course for the textbook writer is to

say faithfully what has been said before with, as

embellishment, some minor note of novelty [17, 514]. Paul Samuelson did the opposite by:

. . . embracing Keynes, the national accounts

. . . and the idea of macroeconomic management

of the economy. He succeeded, although not

without encountering a vehement attack for his

departure from the old faith. No textbook writer

since has began so courageous [17, 514, note 7].

Academic Reactions to the First Edition

Within the economics profession, the reviews of Samuelson's new text were not politically charged. The reception instead was hohum. A. G. Hart gave the first edition of Economics a lengthy assessment in the American Economic Review but he did not recognize the book's distinctiveness nor realize the impact the text would have upon the principles of economic course and future textbooks in the discipline [20].(11) Hart also was surprised that a textbook by Samuelson eschewed mathematics. He claimed (though I find no evidence of this) McGraw-Hill had problems marketing the book because its sales reps could not distinguish "the Paul A. Samuelson of this book from the Paul Anthony Samuelson who wrote Foundations of Economic Analysis . . ." [20, 911].

The Economic Journal published a joint review of the first edition of Samuelson's text along with the now-forgotten principles book by Umbreit, Hunt and Kintner [12]. The reviewer did note Samuelson's placement of macro before micro but decided this was "an appearance of novelty which disappears on closer view" [12,90]. While generally judging Samuelson's entry to be the better of two books, the review decided neither is likely to be "much used in Britain" [12, 92]. British to the core, the EJ reviewer offered "the more general suspicion that the extremely ambitious scale of American textbooks may possibly have something to do with the low average standard of American academic achievement" [12,90].(12)

The one prescient review the first edition received from economists was by John Kenneth Galbraith [16]. Galbraith recognized that the "appearance of a first-rate economics text is an event of no small importance. . ." and he saw great importance in the Samuelson text. He forecast that the "next generation of college students. . .will learn its economics" from this book [16,5].

Later reviews, with the benefit of hindsight, acknowledged the text's wide-ranging influence and remarkable sales. A review of the seventh edition credited it with having "the largest first printing in the History of any college textbook" [2]. A reviewer of the 8th edition for Choice commented that the text could not be compared "with standard works in the field because it is the standard to which all others are compared" [10, 118].(13) A later writer claimed this was the one textbook that needs no title since it is so commonly called, simply, Samuelson" [11, 5].

IV. The Influence of the 11 Principles upon AEA and SEA Presidents

Economics is a profession that does not reproduce itself by offering young people romance and adventure. Economists become economists usually because of their encounter with the subject in a classroom. Certainly in the case of Samuelson himself, his introductory economics course (under Aaron Director) was decisive in his career choice. He describes his first course in economics as being "like the Prince's kiss to Sleeping Beauty" [34, 5]. One wonders whether such a passionate reaction to the introductory course is the norm among future economists? Has the Samuelson text been part of the passion?

To assess the impact of the principles course on economists, the presidents of the American Economic Association and the Southern Economic Association were surveyed. Respondents were asked whether they took a principles of economics course, from whom, at which institution, and the text, if any, that was assigned. These individuals also were invited to comment on whether an introductory economics course or textbook influenced their career paths.

The summary results of this polling are shown in Tables I and II for the period 1960-91. Blank years mean the president is deceased or no response was received to the survey.

The tables reveal several facts. Notwithstanding statements about its influence, very few of these scholars were baptized into economics by the Samuelson text. Indeed, there is no one book, professor, or institution that is distinctive in the initial economic education of AEA and SEA presidents. Among SEA presidents, the 27 respondents took undergraduate degrees from 26 different institutions. Among AEA presidents, the 23 respondents took undergraduate degrees from 18 different institutions (three took undergraduate degrees from Harvard; three from the College of the City of New York).

Only three SEA presidents could not recall their introductory economics textbook, two used mimeographed material, and the remaining 21 used 14 different textbooks. Two AEA presidents could not recall their introductory economics text, six did not use a textbook, and the remaining thirteen used eleven different textbooks.

The Samuelson text is not prominent in either Table I or Table II, in part because of chronology. When the book first appeared in 1948, many senior economists already had begun their studies of the subject. The Samuelson text surfaces first in the SEA with Dennis Mueller, the 1986 president, and is prominent for recent years. Three out of Mueller's five successors were introduced to economics by the Samuelson text.

Thus far thee Samuelson text formally has introduced only one AEA president represented on Table I: Gary Becker [1].(14) However Robert Eisner credits the Samuelson text in a different way as being influential in his development as an economist. While a graduate student junior instructor at Johns Hopkins, Eisner taught from the first edition of Samuelson's Economics and cites this as his first "serious exposure" to economics (this began his long-term practice of teaching from the Samuelson text). [Tabular Data I and II Omitted]

Pigou used to remark "it is all in Marshal." But it is not the case that Marshall's Principles was the doorway to economics for many of the presidents of either association. Only Kenneth Boulding, John Kenneth Galbraith, and E. S. Mason from among the AEA presidents and Marshall Colberg and Edgar Dunn from among the SEA presidents began their economics with Marshall. The text generally considered to be the precursor to Samuelson, Elementary Economics by Fairchild, Furniss and Buck, introduced only one AEA president to the dismal science, George Stigler, and two SEA presidents, James Buchanan and John Kendrick.

Most respondents indicated their introductory textbook played a minor if not inconsequential role in their decision to pursue economics seriously. For some, it was other reading they did.(15) Others cited professors--often professors encountered after the introductory course, and even after the bachelor's degree was in hand.(16)

Robert Tollison's response summarizes a conventional view. "I think the role of the introductory text is overrated, but that of the instructor is underrated. . . . For this reason, I can more readily recall my instructor's name than I can the name of the textbook's author." Juanita Kreps echoes this sentiment: "I cannot possibly remember the title and author of the textbook from which I took my first course in economics half a century ago. . . . I do remember the professor distinctly." For Edward S. Mason, John Ise the teacher, not John Ise the textbook author, was influential.

V. The Market Impact of Samuelson and McConnell

The impact of a textbook is not confined to its influence upon specialists. Its influence also is a function of how often it is read by generalists. The Samuelson text has been widely read. Precisely how widely is difficult to know.

Data on the sales of particular textbooks are not readily available. Publishers consider such information to be closely guarded trade secrets; most authors are not eager to have these data made known. In addition, it is difficult to tally textbook readership. Did the original owner read the book? How often was it recycled in the used book market? How does one count the recent phenomenon of textbook splits?

Data made available to me on the U.S. sales of Samuelson's text reveal its impressive numbers. Through 1990, domestic sales of the Samuelson text were over 3,235,000 copies (in full book equivalents). It is as if everyone in the state of Connecticut owned a copy. A used book multiplier of 2.5 would put sales over 8 million.

There has been speculation that Samuelson's textbook is the largest selling textbook of all time in any discipline. It may be the leading text in any field in terms of worldwide sales. But it does not have this stature in the U.S. market alone, even in the discipline of economics.

In 1960, a rival to Samuelson's text, Economics by Campbell R. McConnell, appeared [25]. Even with Samuelson's twelve year head start, sales of Economics by McConnell have passed sales of Economics by Samuelson. By the mid-1980s, McConnell had cumulative domestic sales of over 3 million full book equivalents. Table III shows domestic annual sales of both texts from their inception through 1984. Samuelson's highwater sales were in 1967 with over 180,000 units. McConnell's highwater mark was 1981 with sales of over 227,000 books. Samuelson's annual average sales of 82,000 compares with 120,000 for McConnell.

Table III also reveals the impact of the used book market upon new book consumption. For example, the eight edition of Samuelson's text began with sales of 168,000; by the end of its cycle, sales were 50,000. McConnell faces the same secondary competition. For example, his fourth edition began with sales of over 200,000 units. By the end of its cycle, sales were 61,000 units.

If other publishers were to provide sales data in the interest of scholarship, as McGraw-Hill has done for me, industrial organization economist could calculate measures of concentration in this market.(17) McGraw-Hill, having both Samuelson and McConnell in its stable, clearly is the industry leader, with McConnell holding about a 20 percent share over the past five editions.(18)

VI. Samuelson's Economics as a Chronicle of the Discipline

To assess changes in the eleven editions of the Samuelson text, I have examined seriatim the treatment given four standard topics in economic principles and one major policy issue. As another approach to surveying changes in Samuelson's chronicle of economic principles and issues, I have tabulated the chapter headings and sub-headings for all eleven editions (and the 12 edition with William Nordhaus) for comparison over time.(19)

If the Samuelson text reflects changes in the discipline, these surveys enable one to paraphrase the famous question of the Watergate era and instead ask: what did economist know and when did they know it--well enough to include it at the introductory level?(20) The constraints of this address enable only the briefest summary of my findings.

If the chronology of the Samuelson textbook is a reflection of the activity of economists, what the eleven editions reveal is a slightly decreasing emphasis on macroeconomics, with a shift from unemployment to inflation problems and a tilt from fiscal to monetary policy.

There is increasing emphasis on microeconomic analysis, both in terms of offering up the theoretical tools of price theory and the applications of these tools.

There is a decreasing emphasis on institutional material, reflecting the greater scientific character of the discipline. Introductory students are more likely to become exposed to Leontief's input-output analysis and less likely to read how to evaluate whole-life insurance versus term insurance.

International trade and finance is the subject matter traditionally tacked on the end of elementary textbooks, including Samuelson's. Over the eleven editions, the amount of textual material devoted to this topic has been stable at about 10 percent.

Figure 1 shows the percentage of the Samuelson text devoted to institutional material, macroeconomics, microeconomics, and international economics for the first eleven editions. The taxonomy between these categories in the text is not precise, but the figure illustrates the increasing importance of microeconomics and the decreasing attention to institutional material during the four publication decades.

VII. Samuelson and Marx

While the early critics of the Samuelson text were from the right, later the book faced detractors from the left.

In 1977 a two volume analysis of the first nine editions of Samuelson's textbook by Marc Linder appeared entitled The Anti-Samuelson [23]. In these volumes, Paul Samuelson is identified as "S"--reminiscent of "M" and "Q" in an Ian Fleming novel. The rant against the Samuelson textbook is that it not only disseminates the allegedly fallacious neoclassical economics but its enormous sales have meant the exposure of millions of students to this paradigm, not to mention the millions more who were assigned introductory textbooks for which Samuelson's was the benchmark. Linder also begrudges the dismissal of Marxian economics throughout most of Economics.

Economics sits somewhere in the middle of the political spectrum. The center rarely pleases those who like their ideology straight up. Economics, over and again, argues for a mixed economy. This is the pragmatic and messy ideology of Paul Samuelson. It is understandably uncongenial to those who prefer total decentralization or total centralization.

There was a time--before McConnell's text--when the Samuelson text may have been outsold, or at least outproduced, by another economics textbook: one published in the Soviet Union. Political Economy, one the official economics textbook of the Soviet Union, had a putative initial press run of 4 to 5 million copies. We may learn someday this number has the same reliability as Soviet statistics about cement production. Samuelson gave the book a bad review, claiming that when Soviet economists wanted to solve the problems of collectivist planning, they would find little to help them in the 800 pages of the Soviet Union's equivalent to his text [32, 195].

Later, Samuelson's text was translated into Russian.(21) Alexander Gerschenkron examined carefully the Russian translation of Samuelson's Economics, discovering many mistakes, deletions by Russian censors, and distorted annotations by the Soviet editors. Gottfried Haberler finds most amusing the alteration in meaning that occurred where Samuelson, to begin a chapter, used the line from Alice in Wonderland:

The time has come, the Walrus said

to Speak of many things. The official Russian translation reads:

The time has come Walrus has said

To speak of many things.(22)

VIII. Gleanings

A textbook with such a long product life cycle reveals not only how Samuelson views the discipline over time; successive editions offer a picture of the time swath itself. For example, to make the point that not everyone in America has the family assets of many readers of his textbook, Samuelson for over two decades was able to write that 90 percent of the American population could not afford the lifestyle that would have them driving a Buick. In the eight edition [33], the Buick becomes a Mercedes.

Early in the first edition, Samuelson explained it is only because of scarcity we have "economic goods." The relevance of economics would disappear if goods were not relatively scarce. But to illustrate an absence of scarcity, Samuelson writes: "All goods would be free goods, like air and water" [31, 16, emphasis in original]. Even the dullest student would be surprised by this passage today.

The dullest student today also would puzzle over the implied tradeoff in this "Question For Discussion" found in the first edition:

I'd rather starve in free American than live off the fat

of the land under totalitarian

communism. Are these your sentiments? Why? [31, 605].

In the first version of Economics, every banker, business manager, "breadwinner," politician and economist is a male. During inflation, "housewives rush to spend their husbands' pay checks." Sentences such as "Wives and beer do not improve with keeping, although wine may" [31, 54] and the dowager who says, "women spend 70 percent of the national income, and we soon hope to get hold of the rest" would not survive today's politically correct editing, and they are not found in later versions.

However even as a young man, Samuelson wrote with an evident concern about the economic status of minority groups. While the term Comparable Worth was not yet coined, his original treatment of this issue and other characteristics of discrimination in the work-place against blacks and women seem remarkably current, though it was written years before these topics became fashionable and prominent on the economist's research agenda [31, 82-4].(23)

IX. Conclusion about the Book

A sermon is to reflect what already has been revealed in the Scriptures. But a sermon also is a preacher's interpretation of the Scriptures at the time. In like fashions, a textbook is to reflect what has been revealed in the economic scriptures: the mainstream literature of economics. But a textbook must be understood as an author's interpretation of the current orthodoxy.

Samuelson's eleven principles of economics are not the dusty sermon notes of a lazy preacher. Where economic orthodoxy has changed significantly, such as the quantity theory or the theory of financial markets, the Samuelson text has changed noticeably. It reflects changes in both theory and facts. Indeed Samuelson is legendary in publishing circles for his insistence that facts be up-to-date in his principle text.(24)

Critics have claimed the Samuelson text does not adequately reflect disagreements among economists. In doing so, they mistake the character of a principles book. An elementary textbook cannot be both elementary and comprehensive. Samuelson's text also has been criticized for including too much and for including too little.(25)

The main shortcoming of the Samuelson editions is that they offer little insight into how economists do research. A diligent student who does the end-of-the-chapter questions and completes the exercises in the student workbook will have little idea what economists do outside the classroom, and how they go about what they do. For example, a reader of Economics would have little perspective of how Samuelson or others do theoretical work; there would be little understanding of how applied economists estimate the elasticity of demand or assess the latest unemployment figures for the Council of Economic Advisors.

X. Conclusion about the Author

Janet Seiz tried to capture Paul Samuelson the textbook writer this way:

He appears the dispassionate, white-lab-coat-clad, "objective" man of science, but he is also the

tweedy, well-read, humane man of letters [37, 161]. I do not disagree, but there is more.

There is Samuelson the writer, worrying what a page of his text will look like to a sophomore at midnight studying for an examination. There is Samuelson the labor input, whose drafts must dovetail with a team of editors, marketing staff, artists, and production people at McGraw-Hill who endeavor to keep Economics ahead of the competition. There is Samuelson the author-become-millionaire, who lived for decades in the same Belmont, Massachusetts house he occupied as an assistant professor. There also is Samuelson the man-who-has-read-everything, whose writings imply that he recalls all of it too.(26).

Let me illustrate what Samuelson's memory is like. When asked about an early economics textbook, Samuelson will tell you about its author(s), describe its color, and even remember if some other economist had ghost-written parts of it. His memory dazzles.

One of Samuelson's most memorable quotes is: "I don't care who writes a nation's laws--or crafts its advanced treaties--if I can write its economic textbooks" [36, ix]. When asked how he came up with this statement, Samuelson replied he thought he had adapted it from a quote found in Bartlett's. But he is not sure of the entry. There is a pause. Whirr. One sits in wonder while Samuelson mentally scrolls through all of Bartlett's. It is not found there.

Then Samuelson recalls that the stated desire to be a textbook writer may have been an allusion to some other type of writer. He searches a mental thesaurus under the term "writes . . . ." Whirr. His brain suggests "writes fairy tales" and "writes legends" as parallels to "writes textbooks." He considers these expressions. But they do not ring true. Then there is a pause, like a computerized spell check does when it cannot find any other logical item to suggest. Such a lapse is very rare. His memory dazzles even when it fails.

William Breit was able to find what Samuelson had been searching for: it was not fairy tale writers that Samuelson had turned into textbook writers; it was not writers of legends. It was song writers. Samuelson's paraphrase is from words by Irving Berlin:

What care I who makes the laws of the nation.

Let those who will take care of its rights and wrongs.

What care I who cares for the world's affairs.

As long as I can sing its popular songs.(27)

Paul A. Samuelson elected not to write the nation's fair tales, and not to write the nation's legends, laws, or popular songs. The odds are small that he shall ever deliver a presidential State of the Union Address. Instead he has delivered eleven State of the Discipline textbooks, to generations of students whom he addresses as |The Sovereign Reader'. Writing upon millions of blank slates, no doubt some more indelibly than others, the eleven principles of economics parallel Paul Samuelson's contributions to economic theory. (1)The twelfth edition of Economics was coauthored by Samuelson and William Nordhaus, and Economics continues to this day into the 13th edition. My analysis of the textbook continues to the end of the sole authorship phase. (2)For a summary of Samuelson's contributions to economic analysis, see Lindbeck [22], Feiwell [14], Brown and Solow [7], and Samuelson [35]. (3)There were four year cycles between the 2nd and 3rd and 10th and 11th editions. (4)Though Samuelson did not pioneer in placing the circular flow in the elementary economics text. For example, the 1943 edition of a popular text by Mary J. Bowman and George L. Bach has such a diagram [3, 38]. (5)The diagram first appears in Samuelson [3], albeit in an almost casual way (and without an investment component). Patinkin calls the diagram the "diagonal cross" [26, 339; 28, 162] and Harry Johnson claims that the "Keynesian cross" has been defined by others as the intersection of the marginal propensity to save/investment diagram [21, 110]. William Fellner [15] credits Kalecki for inventing the diagram but the evidence for this attribution is weak. See Breit and Ransom [6, 117, note 19] and Mason [24, especially note 3] on this subject. (6)Tarshis in 1948 also taught the multiplier expansion of bank deposits but without Samuelson's emphasis on the never-ending chain process. Campbell R. McConnell has informed me that the first edition of Modern Economics by Arthur Edward Burns, Alfred C. Neal, and D. S. Watson [9], which also surfaced in 1948, explained this process as well, but again without Samuelson's flair for the arithmetic wonder of it all. (7)Tarshis uses 56 graphs to illustrate microeconomic principles. The Samuelson first edition uses only 28 graphs in the microeconomic chapters. Samuelson was candid about the downgrading microeconomic analysis received. On the first page of the Preface, he writes "the author has been ruthless in omitting completely many of the usual textbook topics and in reducing to more appropriate emphasis the conventional |marginal' analysis of |value and distribution' theory" [31, v]. He goes on to explain that instructors who had used his material in its manuscript form reported that "introductory analysis of income determination is easier and more interesting that introductory |value and distribution theory'" [31, vi]. Tarshis remained conventional in placing macroeconomics after microeconomics. (8)While macroeconomics clearly was the meat and potatoes of the first edition of Economics, a reader of the early Samuelson textbooks waded through a considerable number of pages before reaching the innovative Keynesian material. Of a 622 page text, it is not until pp. 210-211 in the first edition that The Propensity to Consume schedule and The Propensity to Save schedule appear. Material on National Income and the portrayal of the Circular Flow do not appear until Chapter 11 and p. 225 respectively, and Chapter 12, entitled SAVING AND INVESTMENT, which sets forth the Theory of Income Determination, does not begin until p. 253, well into the 622 page book. (9)What most annoyed Buckley and others critical of these new texts is that what "little recognition is given to that barely noticeable corps of economist and individuals who repudiate the collectivists' program is sometime forthrightly savage"--the implication being that economists such as "Jewkes, F. A. Hayek, Ropke, Anderson, Watt, and von Mises" are superficial and perversely motivated [8, 81]. More recently, in an assessment of alleged bias in the 11th edition of Samuelson's textbook, Alan C. Stockman concluded "the book gives a predominantly one-sided presentation of many important economics issues in its macroeconomics chapters; it invokes a double standard in evaluating the effects of free markets and government policies, and it often uses language in ways that impart a strong bias to the discussions." But Stockman goes on: "Despite these strong claims, a student should be able to learn an enormous amount of economics from this book . . . ." [39, 3]. (10)For example, Paul Craig Roberts comments how the 12th edition of the "text has a way of holding on and giving away at the same time . . ." [29]. (11)Most of Hart's review is occupied with a discussion of the book's purported omissions, topics "which the teacher will have to make good." These include inadequate attention to externalities, non-tariff trade barriers, corporate debt, the marginal efficiency of capital, the distinction of short and long-run, and the concept of opportunity cost [20, 912-14]. (12)The reviewer, Honor Croome, does score one point by commenting on Samuelson "writing genuine, human English, instead of textbookese" [12, 90]. (13)The Economist makes reference to the eighth edition as a "lodestar" that beckons risk-loving authors "into what is really a form of gambling concealed under a veneer of academic respectability." Risk averter economist, according to this author, are those economist who "write respectable monographs which, however obscure their subject, are certain to obtain polite reviews and thus gain their authors a modest but safe sale to all university libraries worthy of the name" [13, 61]. (14)Becker has described the importance of Samuelson's Economics in his own decision to pursue economics over mathematics and sociology. ". . . I had an interest in both mathematics and social problems. During the first year [at Princeton], I took an economics course as a requirement, and I then saw that one could apply mathematics to economics. That was really what converted me to economics. I have always felt fortunate that I took this course in economics. I read an introductory textbook by Samuelson, Economics, and it was the micro sections that I liked the most. They were concise and mathematically formulated, and yet they dealt with interesting problems. So that was what started me to try and combine the interest in social problems with a more mathematical or rigorous way of looking at things" [1, 28-29]. (15)For example, Galbraith cites his reading of Veblen's The Theory of the Leisure Class; Breit cites his reading of Henry Hazlitt's Economics In One Lesson. Gerard Debreu, originally inspired to study mathematics because of his teachers in the subject, turned to economics when a classmate, uninterested in a new book he had been sent, gave his copy of Maurice Allais A la Recherche d' une Discipline Economique to Debreu. Kenneth Arrow reflects a view shared by others: "My true education came from sitting at my desk in the economics stacks of the library and reading anything that came to hand." (16)Among AEA presidents, Modigliani cites Jacob Marschak; Friedman cites Homer Jones and Arthur F. Burns. Among SEA presidents, Kendrick cites Erik Zimmerman; Stein cites Jacob Viner. (17)I am grateful, as well, for the consent of the two authors involved. (18)If one were to include international sales, Samuelson's text would outpace McConnell's in cumulative sales (Samuelson's text has been translated into more languages and has a longer track record here). Reliable data on international sales of the Samuelson text are unavailable from McGraw-Hill and these figures would not reveal pirated printings of the book. (19)The tabulation has been done on a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet is a sizable one and enables one to track the existence and location of any topic heading at any point, or through each of the eleven editions plus the twelfth edition co-authored with William Nordhaus. For an earlier comparison of two editions of Economics, the first and the ninth, and changes from the first through the ninth, see Brazelton [4; 5]. (20)This material is input for a later paper I plan on the eleven principles of economics. (21)In the spring of 1992, the Soviets will print up to 500,000 copies of a Russian translation of McConnell's text, now co-authored by Stanley Brue. A translation of Samuelson-Nordhaus, for at least 100,000 copies, also is in progress. Royalties for the earlier Samuelson translation have been accumulating in rubles, and that is the currency in which both present-day author teams will compensated. (22)The story appears in Gerschenkron [18, 563]. See also Gottfried Haberler, "Biographical Memoirs, Alexander Gerschenkron" [19, 4]. (23)Also, in the first edition, this sentence appears: "A factory worker grumbles if she is made to work 8 hours a day 5 days a week . . . ." [31, 86]. Gender-sensitive sentences were not common in the textbooks of 1948. (24)Samuelson has been known to travel to St. Louis, where Economics has been printed, to oversee personally the last minute inclusion of more recent economic data the author wanted his book to reflect. (25)The claim that the Samuelson text contains too much material is a common one. It also is odd. From the professor's standpoint, the economics axiom that more is to be preferred to less applies. The instructor, after all, need not assign all the material but can pick and choose from among the many ingredients. (26)Robert M. Solow, in discussing an article Samuelson wrote in 1937, noticed a possible gap in Samuelson's knowledge of scholarly literature and wondered: "Can it be that there was a time when Samuelson had not read everything?" [38, 170]. (27)From "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy" and Irving Berlin. The song can be found on "Remember: Michael Feinstein sings Irving Berlin." Elektra/Asylum Records 1987. I am indebted to William Breit and his musical library for findings this song.


[1]Becker, Gary S. "Interview," in Economics and Sociology, edited by Richard Swedberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990. [2]Bennett, Mary Jean, "Briefly Noted." Wall Street Journal, 6 June 1967, 18. [3]Bowman, Mary J. and George L. Bach. Economic Analysis and Public Policy, New York: Prentice-Hall, 1943. [4]Brazelton, W. R., "Samuelson's Principles of Economics in 1948 and 1973." Journal of Economic Education, Spring 1977, 115-17. [5]--, "Some Major Changes in the Principles of Economics as Exemplified by the Principles of Economics of Paul Samuelson, 1948-1973." American Economist, Fall 1977, 3-11. [6]Breit, William and Roger Ransom. The Academic Scribblers. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1971. [7]Brown, E. Cary and Robert M. Solow, editors. Paul Samuelson and Modern Economic Theory. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1983. [8]Buckley, William F. Good and Man at Yale. Chicago: Regnery, 1951. [9]Burns, Arthur Edward, Alfred C. Neal, and D. S. Watson. Modern Economics. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1948. [10]Choice, "Review of Paul A. Samuelson, Economics," March 1971, 118. [11]Chronicle of Higher Education, "Footnotes," 6 March 1985, 5. [12]Croome, Honor, "Review of Economics: An Introductory Analysis and Fundamentals of Economics." Economic Journal, March 1949, 88-92. [13]The Economist, "The Textbook Gamble," 5 September 1970, 61. [14]Feiwel, George R., editor, Samuelson and Neoclassical Economics. The Hague: Kluwer-Nijhoff, 1982. [15]Fellner, William, "Period Analysis and Timeless Equilibrium." Quarterly Journal of Economics, February 1944, 315-22. [16]Galbraith, John Kenneth, "Economics for Tomorrow." Fortune, September 1948, 5. [17]--. A Life in Our Times. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981. [18]Gerschenkron, Alexander, "Samuelson in Soviet Russia: A Report," Journal of Economic Literature, June 1978. 560-73. [19]Haberler, Gottfried. "Biographical Memoirs, Alexander Gerschenkron." Unpublished, no date. [20]Hart, Albert Gailord, "Review of Paul A. Samuelson, Economics." American Economic Review, December 1948, 910-15. [21]Johnson, Harry G. Money, Trade and Economic Growth. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1962. [22]Lindbeck, Assar, "Paul Anthony Samuelson's Contributions to Economics." Swedish Journal of Economics, December 1970, 342-54. [23]Linder, Marc. The Anti-Samuelson. New York: Urizen Books, 1977. [24]Mason, John D. "Too Much Time on the (Keynesian) Cross?" Unpublished, 1977. [25]McConnell, Campbell R. Economics. New York: McGraw-Hill, various editions. [26]Patinkin, Don. Money, Interest and Prices, New York: Harper & Row, 1965. [27]--, "In Search of the |Wheel of Wealth': On the Origins of Frank Knight's Circular Flow Diagram." American Economic Review, December 1973, 1037-46. [28]--. "Monetary Economics," in Paul Samuelson and Modern Economic Theory, edited by E. Cary Brown and Robert M. Solow, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1983, pp. 157-68. [29]Roberts, Paul Craig, "Son of Samuelson: Keynes in a New Key." Wall Street Journal, 20 November 1986, 32. [30]Samuelson, Paul A., "A Synthesis of the Principle of Acceleration and the Multiplier," Journal of Political Economy, December 1939, 786-97. [31]--. Economics. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1948. [32]--. "What Economists Know," in The Human Meaning of the Social Sciences, edited by Daniel Lerner. New York: World Publishing, 1959, pp. 183-213. [33]--. Economics. 8th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1970. [34]--. "Economics in a Golden Age: A Personal Memoir," in Paul Samuelson and Modern Economic Theory, edited by E. Cary Brown and Robert M. Solow. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1983, pp. 1-14. [35].--. The Collected Scientific Papers of Paul A. Samuelson. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1986. [36].--. "Foreword," in The Principles of Economics Course, edited by Phillip Saunders and William B. Walstad. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1990, pp. ix-xi. [37]. Seiz, Janet A. "Comment on Arjo Klamer, |The Textbook Presentation of Economic Discourse,'" in Economics as Discourse: An Analysis of the Language of Economists. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publisher, 1990, pp. 155-65. [38]. Solow, Robert M. Modern Capital Theory," in Paul Samuelson and Modern Economic Theory, edited by E. Cary Brown and Robert M. Solow. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1983, pp. 169-87. [39]. Stockman, Alan C. "Paul Samuelson's Economics, 11th Edition," in American Economics, Texts: A Free Market Critique, edited by James B. Taylor. Reston, Va.: Young America's Foundation, 1982, pp. 1-20. [40]Tarshis, Lorie. The Elements of Economics: An Introduction to the Theory of Price and Employment. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1947. [41]Walstad, William B. and Michael Watts. "The Principles of Economics Textbook: History and Content," in The Principles of Economics Course, edited by Phillip Saunders and William B. Walstad. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1990.
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Title Annotation:Kenneth G. Elzinga's presidential address evaluating Paul Samuelson's book entitled Economics
Publication:Southern Economic Journal
Article Type:Transcript
Date:Apr 1, 1992
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