Paul Samuelson, R.I.P.
A historian could well tell the story of 20th-century public debate over economic policy in America through the jousting between Mr. Samuelson and Milton Friedman, who won the Nobel prize in 1976. Mr. Samuelson said the two had almost always disagreed with each other but had remained friends. They met in 1933 at the University of Chicago, when Mr. Samuelson was an undergraduate and Mr. Friedman a graduate student.
Unlike the liberal Mr. Samuelson, the conservative Mr. Friedman opposed active government participation in most areas of the economy except national defense and law enforcement. He thought private enterprise and competition could do better and that government controls posed risks to individual freedoms.
Both men were fluid speakers as well as writers, and they debated often in public forums, in testimony before congressional committees, in op-ed articles and in columns each of them wrote for Newsweek magazine. But Professor Samuelson said he always had fear in his heart when he prepared for combat with Professor Friedman, a formidably engaging debater.
…Mr. Samuelson said he had never regarded Keynesianism as a religion, and he criticized some of his liberal colleagues for seeming to do so, earning himself, late in life, the label l'enfant terrible, emeritus. The experience of nations in the second half of the century, he said, had diminished his optimism about the ability of government to perform miracles.