Voluminous, Repetitive, and Intractable: Samuelson on Early Development Economics

Center for the History of Political Economy at Duke University Working Paper Series, 2020

44 Pages Posted: 6 Mar 2020 Last revised: 21 Nov 2020

Date Written: March 3, 2020

Abstract

In the late 1970s Paul Samuelson drafted the outline of a paper, never published, with a critical assessment of the theoretical innovations of postwar development economics. He found the subject essentially intractable. The present paper discusses how that assessment fits in Samuelson’s published writings on economic development, throughout several editions of his textbook Economics and in some papers he wrote after that assessment. Increasing returns posed a main analytical hurdle, together with the elusive attempt to provide “laws of motion” of economic development. Samuelson’s notion of “tractability” may be traced back to Peter Medawar’s well-known definition of science as the “art of the soluble.”

Keywords: Samuelson, development economics, tractability, Medawar, increasing returns

JEL Classification: B20, B40, O10

Suggested Citation

Boianovsky, Mauro, Voluminous, Repetitive, and Intractable: Samuelson on Early Development Economics (March 3, 2020). Center for the History of Political Economy at Duke University Working Paper Series, 2020, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3548093 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3548093

Mauro Boianovsky (Contact Author)

Universidade de Brasilia ( email )

Brasilia, DF 70910-900
Brazil

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