Addressing the Audience: Paul Samuelson, Radical Economics and Textbook Making, 1967-1973
Journal of The History of Economic Thought (forthcoming)
43 Pages Posted: 31 Jul 2017 Last revised: 17 May 2019
Date Written: May 2, 2019
Historians of economics rarely consider textbooks as more than passive receptacles of previously validated knowledge. Therefore, their active role in shaping the discipline and its image is seldom addressed. In this paper, I study the making of Paul Samuelson’s successive editions of Economics from 1967 to 1976 as an instance of how textbooks stand at the crossroads between disciplinary knowledge, pedagogy and larger political and societal concerns. In the mid-1960s, Economics, now at its sixth edition, was at the height of its success. Considered one cornerstone of modern economics, it was also the center of a number of criticisms dealing with the current state of the economic discipline and its teaching in the universities. While the profession expressed its concern over the lack of relevance of economics to address the pressing issues of the day and pleaded for a new “problem-solving” approach to economic education, the late 1960s witnessed the emergence of a new generation of “radical” economists criticizing the economics orthodoxy. Their contention that mainstream theory had neglected the issues of class struggle and capitalist exploitation, found a favorable echo among an increasingly politicized population. Using archival materials, I show how Samuelson, helped by his editorial team at McGraw-Hill, attempted to take into account these changes in order to ensure the continuing success of subsequent editions of his text in an increasingly competitive market. This study emphasizes Samuelson’s ambiguous attitude toward his contenders, revealing, on the one hand, his apparent openness to discussion and outsiders’ suggestions and, on the other hand, his firm attachment to mildly liberal politics and aversion to Marxism, unchanged through revisions. It also helps refine a notion that is often invoked but never fully expounded in textbook studies: that of the audience.
Keywords: Paul Samuelson, economics textbooks, economic education, radical economics
JEL Classification: A14, B20, B3
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation