How and why Paul Samuelson shifted based from Harvard to MIT…

Roger Backhouse of University of Birmingham writes this nice paper. This is pretty much folklore in economics that how  MIT’s econ dept became the force as Paul Samuelson joined MIT.

However, Backhouse nicely stitches this tale of how and why Samuelson quit Harvard to joint MIT .

This paper is an attempt to reconstruct the series of events surrounding Samuelson’s departure from Harvard to MIT in October 1940. The main evidence comes from correspondence and is necessarily limited for not everything will have been preserved and because many communications will not have been committed to paper: if minutes of the crucial faculty meeting at which the supposedly fateful decision was taken (and they were probably not), they are not available. However, despite the limitations of the sources, it is  possible to build up a picture that is more complex, and does more credit to those involved, than the conventional one.

Reasons Backhouse explores are:

  • Samuleson was a mathematical econ and knowing math was not seen as a big thing in eco then. Now it means everything though. 
  • Samuelson knew much more than current profs at harvard
  • Anti-semitism in Harvard (this is surprise considering how many Jews are such prominent econs. Most The Prize winners happen to eb Jews.
  • MIT gave him a better offer of Assistant Professorship..
  • Influence of other colleague’s on Samuelson’s decision..

Nice read..

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