Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A textbook example

I'm not sure how many textbooks I bought and used in college -- a few dozen, I suppose.

I remember the author of exactly one of them.

That would be Paul Samuelson, who died the other day at the age of 94.

The obituaries contain all sorts of facts on Samuelson. He won a Nobel Prize for economics, the second person to do so. He worked with the Kennedy Administration on economic policy, and was considered one of the architects of the tax cut that created a growth spurt.

But Samuelson had a more lasting influence in some ways. He wrote the definitive college textbook in "Economics," which was first published in 1948. I think just about every college student who took economics was assigned to go out and buy it.

(Note to self: Stop writing hockey books; start writing economic books. More residuals.)

And why did everyone use it? Because it was good. Not only was the book comprehensive -- we got through about half of it in a year -- but it was easy to read. This is not easy; they don't call economics "the dismal science" for nothing.

Here's how good the book was. It was about the only textbook in which I actually looked through other sections of the book just for the heck of it. Even though the guns vs. butter argument rarely comes up while covering running, I have little doubt that I have used Samuelson's wisdom in discussing economic matters throughout my life.

Samuelson said at some point that the textbook was "my baby," that his goal was to make the subject understandable and enjoyable. I'd say he did that, paving the way for such authors of Steven Levitt of "Freakonomics" fame.

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