Negotiating the ‘Middle-of-the-Road’ Position: Paul Samuelson, MIT and the Politics of Textbook Writing, 1945-55

Paul-Samuelson-Book21It is a great pleasure for me to have this paper published in a special issue of History of Political Economy devoted to MIT and the Transformation of American Economics. Not only will this volume please all those who are interested in the history of one of the most important institutions in the development of modern economics but I also believe that these contributions, taken as a whole, will help draw attention to a number of new narrative trends in the history of economics, using archival sources as well as quantitative data. It contains a number of contributions written by younger scholars – all good friends – whose work has accompanied me over the past decade or so and who are, I believe, beginning to get the recognition they deserve. It is an honor to be there with them, as well as with some of the finest researchers in the history of economics. I could not thank Roy Weintraub enough for putting such a great team of contributors together. Here is the abstract of my paper:

Previous contributions to the history of economics have tried to assess Paul Samuelson’s political positioning by tracing it in the subsequent editions of his famous textbook Economics. By contrast, this article depicts the making of Economics itself as a political process. It argues that the “middle-of-the-road” position that Samuelson adopted in the book was consciously constructed by the MIT economist, with the help of his home institution and his publishing company McGraw-Hill, in response to conservative criticisms of the textbook and pressures from members of the Corporation—MIT’s Board of Trustees. Though Samuelson first intended to write a policy-oriented textbook with a strong Keynesian inclination, the changes he introduced, while keeping most of the substance, made it a more theoretically inclined text, in which policy recommendations were presented in a softened fashion. These events, far from being anecdotal, should rather be seen as foundational in the identity of what historians are trying to identify as “MIT economics.”

For those who would like to know what to expect from the volume, they can download Roy Weintraub’s introduction at: http://hope.dukejournals.org/content/46/suppl_1/1.full.pdf

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One thought on “Negotiating the ‘Middle-of-the-Road’ Position: Paul Samuelson, MIT and the Politics of Textbook Writing, 1945-55

  1. Pingback: MIT and the Transformation of American Economics | YANN GIRAUD

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