Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2009

Paul Samuelson

Paul Samuelson was the greatest academic economist of the 20th century. Yet one never hears talk of Samuelsonian economics, and his profile was much lower than that of Milton Friedman or John Maynard Keynes. This wasn't because Samuelson's subject matter was obscure or because he kept to the ivory tower. He wrote the all-time best-selling undergraduate economics textbook, advised Presidents, wrote a popular magazine column and engaged in frequent public debates with his friend Friedman. He was also the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Economics, in 1970. But unlike Friedman and Keynes, Samuelson was no crusader. While he believed fervently in the power of economic reasoning to solve problems, he never pretended that it delivered all the answers. That explains his lower profile. It was also perhaps his most admirable trait.

—Justin Fox

Fox is TIME's business columnist and the author of The Myth of the Rational Market