Tuesday, July 22, 2014

To Kill a Theory

Paul Samuelson once wrote, "In economics, it takes a theory to kill a theory; facts can only dent the theorist's hide."

Specifically which theory was he talking about being "killed" and which other theory was doing the killing?


Larry Signor said...

Good question. Perhaps the answer is a fusing of macro and micro into maicro. Even theories need a couple of facts to bind them to reality.

Magpie said...

Ramrattan and Szenberg[*] also quote Samuelson on that. According to them, the quote comes from:

Samuelson, Paul A. The Collected Scientific Papers of Paul A. Samuelson, edited by Joseph E. Stiglitz. Vol. 2, (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1966). page 1568

I have no idea about the specific context, but Ramrattan and Szenberg were writing about Samuelson's general philosophy of economics, which, according to them, wasn't positivism. For Samuelson, always following R&S, economic theories were not empirically falsified.

So, perhaps one could think of both the "theories being killed" and the "killer theories" as general descriptors.

[*] Ramrattan, L., & Szenberg, M. (2008). Memorializing Milton Friedman: A Review of His Major Works, 1912-2006. The American Economist, 23-38.

Magpie said...


The Ramrattan & Szenberg paper is actually Memorializing Paul A. Samuelson: a review of his major works, 1915 - 2009. The American Economist; vol. 2, no. 55 (2010)

It seems rather mischievous to imply that both old-timers were hard to distinguish... But it was entirely unintentional. :-)