Business Today

A student remembers Prof Samuelson

Dr Asim Dasgupta, West Bengal's Finance Minister, was a doctoral student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) from 1970-75. Dasgupta briefly came under the spell of Paul Samuelson—an institution at MIT and the first American to win the Economics Nobel—who passed away on December 13. He remembers his former teacher:

Somnath Dasgupta | Print Edition: January 10, 2010

On Personal Interactions:
Paul Anthony Samuelson has truly been a legend in his own time. I was fortunate to be his student at MIT and he taught us a course on Capital Theory in the 4th semester. My thesis supervisors were Robert Solow and Jagdish Bhagwati, but I had given my thesis to Prof Samuelson to read and he not only agreed with it but also suggested some improvements. My thesis was on Capital Formation in Developing Equity. Prof Samuelson agreed with me that there is no contradiction between equity and growth, and, in fact, equity can promote growth. Prof Samuelson's greatest contribution was that he could strike a remarkable balance between the need for market efficiency and the need for correct social intervention by the government.

On His Contribution to Economics:
He was a Keynesian in the most modern sense of the term. He single-handedly contributed, in the original sense, to all important areas of economic theory and application—microeconomics, macroeconomics, welfare economics, international trade and public finance. He was a great institution builder—MIT's economics department owes its eminence to him. Among the teachers were Robert Solow and Franco Modigliani, while Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman were among the senior students. All of them later got the Nobel Prize.

On His Lectures:
Prof. Samuelson's lectures were remarkable. He used to incite the creative appetite in all students. He was a great lover of India. Some of his favourite colleagues were Sukhamoy Chakravarty and Amartya Sen. I remember when he came to his first class with us, he said: "I will not teach one aspect of Capital Theory, which is capital and development, because Chakravarty has just written a book on it."

I can still remember how he read out from the foreword: "Interested as much in the dualisms of Tolstoy as in those of linear programming, Chakravarty is one of the rarest specimens of that nearly-empty set, which is the logical intersection of C.P. Snow's Two Cultures. And here is a case of water rising above its own level."

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