When Robert Lucas, the Nobel laureate who micro-founded macroeconomics and challenged Keynes, decided to switch from history to economics, he spent a summer reading Samuelson’s Ph.D. dissertation, “The Foundations of Economic Analysis,” by “working through the first four chapters, line by line, going back to my calculus books when I needed to.” As a result, “by the beginning of fall quarter I was as good an economic technician as anyone on the Chicago faculty.
John Maynard Keynes may have had more influence on policy makers, Milton Friedman on citizens, Kenneth Arrow on economic theory, but Samuelson had more influence on the way economics is done today, and the purposes to which it is put, than any other economist of the twentieth century.
Arrow challenged Samuelson's agnosticism about the relevance of economics, which spilled over to Samuelson's agnosticism about economic policy. Quoting Samuelson's statement, "there are no rules concerning the proper role of the government that can be established by a priori reasoning," Arrow replied, "such banalities are not entirely to the point. Economic theory, being abstract, cannot of course state that government expenditures should be 31.732 percent of gross national product. But it can state general principles which relate the allocation of resources between public and private uses to the underlying preferences of individuals, including those for public goods."
A lot of the feeling about him is correlated with how one feels about math
There have been hedgehogs; there have been foxes; and then there was Paul Samuelson.
Samuelson famously remarked once that he didn't care who wrote the nation's laws, as long as he wrote the nation's economic textbooks. Which he indeed did. His Economics became the leading textbook for college freshman, and his Foundations became the leading text for first-year graduate students in economics.
Obituaries: NYT, Telegraph, WSJ,
Paul Samuelson, Nobel Economics Laureate, Dies at 94
The National Bureau of Economic Research's James Poterba, Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer, Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Robert Solow, Carnegie Mellon University's Allan Meltzer and Columbia University's Jagdish Bhagwati talk with Bloomberg's Tom Keene about Paul Samuelson
Summers Says Paul Samuelson Had Passion for Economics