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The Political Economy of Textbook Writing : Paul Samuelson and the making of the first Ten Editions of Economics (1945-1976)

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  • Yann Giraud

    () (THEMA - Théorie économique, modélisation et applications - Université de Cergy Pontoise - CNRS - Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique)

Abstract

Over the past two decades, numerous 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. This literature, however, has provided no consensus about the location of Samuelson's political ideas. While some authors believe that Samuelson has always had inclinations toward interventionism, others conclude that he more often acted as a pro-business advocate. The purpose of this paper is not to argue for one of these two interpretations but to depict the making of Economics itself as a political process. By 'political' it is not meant the conduct of party politics but the many political elements that a textbook author has to take into account if he wants to be published and favorably received. I argue that the "middle of the road" stance 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, to ensure both academic freedom and the success of the book. The reason for which the stance developed is related to pre-McCarthyist right-wing criticisms of the textbook and how Samuelson and the MIT department had to endure the pressures from members of the Corporation (MIT's Board of Trustees), who tried to prevent the publication of the textbook and threatened Samuelson's tenure at MIT as soon as 1947 - when early manuscripts were circulated. As a result, it was decided in accordance with both the Corporation and McGraw-Hill that the Readings volume would be published to balance conflicting ideas about state intervention. Following these early criticisms, the making of the subsequent editions relied on a network of instructors and referees all over the US in order to make it as successful and consensual as possible. This seemed to work quite well in the 1950s and for a good portion of the 1960s, until Economics became victim of its own success and was seen, in an ironical twist of fate, as a right wing text by younger, radical economists. From now on, Samuelson will try to have his book sent as often as possible to the radicals for referring process, with mixed results. Eventually, the book became criticized from both its left and its right.

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  • Yann Giraud, 2013. "The Political Economy of Textbook Writing : Paul Samuelson and the making of the first Ten Editions of Economics (1945-1976)," Working Papers hal-00870494, HAL.
  • Handle: RePEc:hal:wpaper:hal-00870494 Note: View the original document on HAL open archive server: https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-00870494
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Jean-Baptiste Fleury, 2012. "The evolving notion of relevance: an historical perspective to the ‘economics made fun’ movement," Journal of Economic Methodology, Taylor & Francis Journals, pages 303-316.
    2. William Barnett, 2004. "An Interview with Paul A. Samuelson," WORKING PAPERS SERIES IN THEORETICAL AND APPLIED ECONOMICS 200401, University of Kansas, Department of Economics, revised May 2004.
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    4. Barnett, William A., 2004. "An Interview With Paul A. Samuelson," Macroeconomic Dynamics, Cambridge University Press, pages 519-542.
    5. Paul A. Samuelson & Harold W. McGraw & William D. Nordhaus & Orley Ashenfelter & Robert M. Solow & Stanley Fischer, 1999. "Samuelson's Economics at Fifty: Remarks on the Occasion of the Anniversary of Publication," The Journal of Economic Education, Taylor & Francis Journals, pages 352-363.
    6. Samuels, Warren J., 2002. "Machine Dreams: Economics Becomes a Cyborg Science. By Philip Mirowski. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Pp. xiv, 655. $35.00, paper," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 62(03), pages 913-915, September.
    7. T. Asada & P. Chen, 2004. "Keynesian Dynamics and the wage price spiral. A baseline disequilibrium approach," Computing in Economics and Finance 2004 262, Society for Computational Economics.
    8. Giraud, Yann B., 2010. "The Changing Place Of Visual Representation In Economics: Paul Samuelson Between Principle And Strategy, 1941–1955," Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Cambridge University Press, pages 175-197.
    9. Paul A. Samuelson, 1997. "Credo of a Lucky Textbook Author," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, pages 153-160.
    10. Paul A. Samuelson, 1998. "How Foundations Came to Be," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, pages 1375-1386.
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    12. William A. Barnett & Melvin J. Hinich & Piyu Yue, 2011. "The Exact Theoretical Rational Expectations Monetary Aggregate," World Scientific Book Chapters,in: Financial Aggregation And Index Number Theory, chapter 2, pages 53-84 World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd..
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    14. Barnett, William A. & Solow, Robert, 2000. "An Interview With Franco Modigliani," Macroeconomic Dynamics, Cambridge University Press, pages 222-256.
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    Cited by:

    1. De Vroey Michel & Duarte Pedro Garcia, 2013. "In search of lost time: the neoclassical synthesis," The B.E. Journal of Macroeconomics, De Gruyter, pages 1-31.
    2. Fiorino, Nadia & Gavoille, Nicolas & Padovano, Fabio, 2015. "Rewarding judicial independence: Evidence from the Italian Constitutional Court," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, pages 56-66.
    3. Roger Backhouse, 2014. "Hans Apel, Samuelson's Economics and Academic Freedom, 1950-57," Discussion Papers 14-12, Department of Economics, University of Birmingham.
    4. Pedro Garcia Duarte & Michel De Vroey, 2014. "In Search Of Lost Time: The Neoclassicalsynthesis," Anais do XL Encontro Nacional de Economia [Proceedings of the 40th Brazilian Economics Meeting] 005, ANPEC - Associação Nacional dos Centros de Pósgraduação em Economia [Brazilian Association of Graduate Programs in Economics].
    5. De Vroey Michel & Duarte Pedro Garcia, 2013. "In search of lost time: the neoclassical synthesis," The B.E. Journal of Macroeconomics, De Gruyter, pages 1-31.

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    JEL classification:

    • A14 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Sociology of Economics
    • B20 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought since 1925 - - - General
    • B31 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought: Individuals - - - Individuals

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