Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk Is the Best Cheese in the World
Office Hours This Week (December 14-18)

Paul Samuelson (May 15, 1915 – December 13, 2009)

Paul Krugman brings us P.A. Samuelson (May 15, 1915 – December 13, 2009):

He died yesterday. But there is a sense in which he is still very much alive.

Paul Krugman quotes:

Samuelson, Friedman, and monetary policy: [H]re’s Paul Samuelson, from pages 353-4 of his 1948 textbook:

Today few economists regard Federal Reserve monetary policy as a panacea for controlling the business cycle. Purely monetary factors are considered to be as much symptoms as causes, albeit symptoms with aggravating effects that should not be completely neglected.

By increasing the volume of their government securities and loans and by lowering Member Bank legal reserve requirements, the Reserve Banks can encourage an increase in the supply of money and bank deposits. They can encourage but, without taking drastic action, they cannot compel. For in the middle of a deep depression just when we want Reserve policy to be most effective, the Member Banks are likely to be timid about buying new investments or making loans. If the Reserve authorities buy government bonds in the open market and thereby swell bank reserves, the banks will not put these funds to work but will simply hold reserves. Result: no 5 for 1, “no nothing,” simply a substitution on the bank’s balance sheet of idle cash for old government bonds. If banks and the public are quite indifferent between gilt-edged bonds — whose yields are already very low — and idle cash, then the Reserve authorities may not even succeed in bidding up the price of old government bonds; or what is the same thing, in bidding down the interest rate.

Even if the authorities should succeed in forcing down short-term interest rates, they may find it impossible to convince investors that long-term rates will stay low. If by superhuman efforts, they do get interest rates down on high-grade gilt-edged government and private securities, the interest rates charged on more risky new investments financed by mortgage or commercial loans or stock-market flotations may remain sticky. In other words, an expansionary monetary policy may not lower effective interest rates very much but may simply spend itself in making everybody more liquid...


In terms of the quantity theory of money, we may say that the velocity of circulation of money does not remain constant. “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” You can force money on the system in exchange for government bonds, its close money substitute; but you can’t make the money circulate against new goods and new jobs. You can get some interest rates down, but not all to the same degree. You can tempt businessmen with cheap rates of borrowing, but you can’t make them borrow and spend on new investment goods...

And comments:

Paul Samuelson was a great economic theorist. But he was also an acute observer of the real world, to such an extent that many of the things he said in his 1948 textbook ring truer than what many, perhaps most economists believed on the eve of the current crisis. This is especially true with regard to monetary policy. By the 1980s, I think it’s fair to say that the vast majority of economists had been convinced by Milton Friedman’s assertion that aggressive monetary policy could have prevented the Great Depression. Some of us started to have doubts after contemplating Japan’s troubles in the 1990s; but as late as 2002 Ben Bernanke declared, on behalf of the Federal Reserve, “You’re right. We did it. But thanks to you, we won’t do it again.” But here’s Paul Samuelson...