Paul Samuelson and the logic of the fiscal cliff

17 Dec, 2012 at 14:58 | Posted in Economics | 2 Comments

[The interview was given to Mark Blaug in 1995. In transcript: “I think there is an element of truth in the view that the superstition that the budget must be balanced at all times [is necessary]. Once it is debunked, [it] takes away one of the bulwarks that every society must have against expenditure out of control. There must be discipline in the allocation of resources or you will have anarchistic chaos and inefficiency. And one of the functions of old fashioned religion was to scare people by sometimes what might be regarded as myths into behaving in a way that the long-run civilized life requires. We have taken away a belief in the intrinsic necessity of balancing the budget if not in every year, [and then] in every short period of time. If Prime Minister Gladstone came back to life he would say “oh, oh what you have done” and James Buchanan argues in those terms. I have to say that I see merit in that view.”]

Samuelson’s statement makes me come to think of the following passage in Keynes‘s General Theory:

The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is com­monly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authori­ty, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.

I wonder why …


  1. Sounds like the economists version of Plato’s “nobel lie.”

  2. “Paul Samuelson thinks that government, and economists in general, have become far too right wing.Paul Samuelson and Robert Merton differ on the causes of the financial crises”

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