Samuelson to receive Medal of Science

Professor Paul A. Samuelson of MIT, the Nobel laureate internationally noted for establishing the agenda of modern economics and developing the scientific tools to analyze its components, has been selected by President Clinton as one of eight recipients of the National Medal of Science this year.

The award, the nation's highest in science and engineering, will be presented at a White House ceremony this summer. The awards were announced by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy on Monday, June 10.

Dr. Samuelson, Institute Professor Emeritus, was recognized "for his fundamental contributions to economic science, education and policy for nearly 60 years, establishing both the agenda of modern economics and scientific standards for economic analysis of a wide range of problems including social security and the public debt, welfare and international trade."

He is the 17th MIT faculty member to receive the Medal of Science. Recipients in 1995 were Institute Professor Hermann A. Haus of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and the Research Laboratory of Electronics, and Alex-ander Rich, the William Thompson Sedgwick Professor of Biophysics in the Department of Biology. Other MIT recipients were Manson Benedict, Morris Cohen, Charles S. Draper, Mildred S. Dresselhaus, Harold E. Edgerton, Herman Feshbach, Har Gobind Khorana, Warren K. Lewis, Salvador E. Luria, Bruno B. Rossi, Claude E. Shannon, John G. Trump, Victor F. Weisskopf and Norbert Wiener.

The 1996 National Medal of Science recipients also include an MIT alumnus, James L. Flanagan, Class of 1950, director of the Center for Computer Aids for Industrial Productivity and vice president for research at Rutgers University. He was recognized "for his foremost leadership and innovation in bringing engineering techniques and speech science together to solve basic problems in speech communications."

Other 1996 Medal of Science recipients are Wallace S. Broecker, Columbia University; Norman Davidson, California Institute of Technology; Richard M. Karp, University of Washington; C. Kumar N. Patel, University of California at Los Angeles, and Ruth Patrick, Academy of Natural Sciences.

Professor Samuelson was the first American to win the Nobel Prize in economics. He was honored in 1970 for his work in applying mathematics to questions of static and dynamic equilibrium and for "raising the level of scientific analysis in economic theory."

The Swedish Royal Academy, in its award citation, said, "Professor Samuelson's extensive production, covering nearly all areas of economic theory, is characterized by an outstanding ability to derive important new theorems and to find new applications for existing ones. By his contributions, Samuelson has done more than any other contemporary economist to raise the level of scientific analysis in economic theory."

The academy also noted that Professor Samuelson has "rewritten considerable parts of central economic theory and has in several areas achieved results which now rank among the classical theories of economics."

Professor Samuelson, who celebrated his 81st birthday May 15, was born in Gary, IN, went to high school and college in Chicago, and received the BA from the University of Chicago (1935) and the MA (1936) and the PhD (1941) from Harvard. He joined MIT as an assistant professor in 1940, was promoted to associate professor in 1944 and full professor in 1947. In 1966 he became Institute Professor, a rank MIT reserves as a high honor for only a few of its faculty. In 1991 MIT established in his honor the Paul A. Samuelson Professorship in Economics. He has received two-score honorary degrees here and abroad.

It is a rare student of economics who has not used his famous text, Economics, which first came out in 1948. Its 17 editions have produced more than 3 million copies in English and more than 40 other languages. The book was the first to explain to beginning students the principles of Keynesian economics, which Professor Samuelson has long advocated. But unlike some Keynesians, Professor Samuelson has maintained that the private market also has an important role, along with government, in promoting a healthy economy.

He won international renown with his first major work, Foundations of Economic Analysis (1947), in which he confronted the contradictions, overlaps and fallacies in the classical language of economics and found unification and clarification in mathematics. He wrote that his fellow economists had been practicing "mental gymnastics of a peculiarly depraved type," and that they were like "highly trained athletes who never ran a race." He did not claim that mathematics would cure all the ills of economic analysis, but he insisted that mathematics was essential.

In addition to his extensive professional publications, Professor Samuel-son for years wrote a well-received column on economics for Newsweek magazine.

He was an advisor to Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Carter and, along with some other MIT faculty, made President Nixon's "enemies list" for his consistently harsh criticism of the economic policies of his administration. "If you turn this recession upside down," Professor Samuelson was quoted in early 1975, "you will read clearly on its bottom, `Made in Washington.'"

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 12, 1996.

Topics: Economics, Awards, honors and fellowships, Faculty

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