Books: Inside the Economist's Mind (I.T.E.M.) and Getting It Wrong

This Blog hosts discussion of issues relevant to the book, Inside the Economist's Mind, coedited by Nobel Laureate Paul A. Samuelson and William A. Barnett, published by Wiley/Blackwell, and the newer book by William A. Barnett, Getting It Wrong, published by MIT Press.

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William A. Barnett is Oswald Distinguished Professor of Macroeconomics at the University of Kansas and Director of the Center for Financial Stability in New York City. He was previously Research Economist at the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System in Washington, DC; Stuart Centennial Professor of Economics at the University of Texas at Austin; and Professor of Economics at Washington University in St. Louis. William Barnett has been a leading researcher in macroeconomics and econometrics. He is one of the pioneers in the study of chaos and nonlinearity in socioeconomic contexts, as well as a major figure in the study of the aggregation problem. He is Editor of the Emerald Press monograph series International Symposia in Economic Theory and Econometrics, and Editor of the journal Macroeconomic Dynamics, published by Cambridge University Press. He received his B.S. degree from M.I.T., his M.B.A. from the University of California at Berkeley, and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon University. He has published 20 books (as either author or editor) and over 140 articles in professional journals. His research has been published in 7 languages.


The book, Inside the Economist's Mind, is coedited by Paul A. Samuelson and William A. Barnett. Although this Blog is hosted solely by the latter coeditor, the following is the information in the book's front matter about Paul Samuelson:

Paul A. Samuelson was the first American to win the Nobel Prize in Economics. He is Professor Emeritus of Economics and Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Institute Professor is the highest rank awarded by MIT. His landmark 1947 book, Foundations of Economic Analysis, based upon his Ph.D. dissertation at Harvard University, established him as "the economists' economist" by raising the standards of the entire profession. Paul Samuelson's classic textbook, Economics, first published in 1948, is among the most successful textbooks ever published in the field. The book's 16 editions have sold over four million copies and have been translated into 41 languages. He received his B.A. degree from the University of Chicago and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard University. As one of the profession's most productive scholars for over a half-century, he remains an intellectual force of towering stature.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

News about Paul Samuelson

Daylife maintains a site about Paul Samuelson. The Daylife Samuelson Site provides press coverage about Paul and is the place to look for what the press is saying about him and what he is saying to the press.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Google Book Search

A limited preview of the book is available in Google Book Search. That preview is a good way to get a quick overview of the book, with the ability to see parts of each chapter. Oddly the Google Book Search preview links only to the hardcover edition for purchase.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Financial Times of London

A review of the book has appeared in the January 20, 2007 issue of the Financial Times of London. The review is written by Ludovic Hunter-Tilney. Here is part of it:

"J.K. Galbraith joked that 'the only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable'. Just as economics is half way between science and guesswork, so too Inside the Economist's Mind blends academic analysis with biographical informality.

It comprises interviews with 16 economists, half of them Nobel Prize winners, conducted by fellow economists. The emphasis is on macroeconomic theorists such as Robert Lucas and Milton Friedman, though also numbered among the interviewees are central bankers including Paul Volcker, chairman of the Federal Reserve under the Carter and Reagan administrations, and Stanley Fischer, governor of the Bank of Israel.

The aim is to see how their lives and work have intersected. . . . the book's value for the layman is to humanise a branch of thought that is abstruse yet full of practical consequence for everyday life."

This latest review has been added to the rapidly growing list of reviews, commentaries, and endorsements for the book.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Review in Ireland

A long and detailed review of the book just appeared on the blog,, maintained by Stephen Kinsella at the University of Limerick's Kemmy Business School in Ireland. Since the review contains many excerpts from the book, the review's length is prohibitive for inclusion in this blog. But the opening paragraphs, repeated below, might motivate you to go to the full review on his site:

"This is a collection of interviews commissioned for a journal, Macroeconomic Dynamics. The idea is to gauge the position of the profession by asking the people who invented large swaths of the theory their motivations for doings what they did, when they did it, and how they did it. Readers find eccentric and irascible characters behind some of the major innovations in economic science. I loved this book, and read it cover to cover in a day.

The book purports (pg. xi) to “contain unique insights into the thinking of some of the world’s most important economists, whose work contributed to the evolution of modern economic thought,” and does.

. . . So it’s great that William Barnett, the editor of Macroeconomic Dynamics, and the co-editor of this book, decided to ask these men these questions."

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Bloomberg Podcasts

On January 16, 2007 from 2 pm to 3 pm EST, Samuelson and Barnett were both interviewed about I.T.E.M. on Bloomberg radio. The program is called Bloomberg on the Economy with host Tom Keene. The podcasts of both segments are online, including the segment with Paul Samuelson and the segment with William Barnett.

If you don't want to take the time to listen to the two podcasts, but would just like to know about Tom Keene's commentary about I.T.E.M. during the program, here it is:

"It was the talk at the American Economic Association meetings. Folks, it has my highest, highest recommendation. It is very exciting. I heard more buzz about this book at the A.E.A. than any I've heard in years. And folks I'll be blunt: it's on my "must read list," and it's the first book ever to go on the "must read list" without being [completely] read. It's so thick, so dense, so rich. Folks I cannot emphasize enough the energy off the page, because of the uncensored nature of some 400 pages ... I am sure there will be a volume 2; and after you sell the movie rights, there will be a volume 3. There is a great energy in this book. The tension among the economists is great.... I cannot convey to you enough the accessibility of the book with a minimal amount of math and a maximum amount of emotion and candor ... Don't take my word for it. Paul Samuelson opens up his part of the book with: 'this book adds up to more than the sum of its parts.' "

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Bloomberg on the Economy

ITEM just appeared as one of the eighteen "Book Reviews: Must Reads" on Thomas R. Keene's Amazon list. He is the Host of Bloomberg on the Economy. Here is his review:

"Rules are meant to be broken. Samuelson & Barnett goes on the list without a complete read. Sixteen stunning interviews; the candor shocking. But then, this is Samuelson. Taylor interviews Friedman; Blanchard interviews Fischer. You get the must-read picture."

Evidently the prior rule that he has broken is not to put a book on his "must read" list before completing his reading of the book. Should be interesting to see what he writes after he has finished the book. I don't think he'll change his mind.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Bookviews Review of I.T.EM.

I.T.E.M. just appeared as a January 2007 "pick of the month" in Bookviews, edited by Alan Caruba. He is a charter member of the National Critics Circle. He also is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and of the Society of Professional Journalists. Bookviews has been an authoritative source of book reviews since the 1960's. Here is his review:

  • "The study of economics lost one of its greatest minds, Milton Friedman, in November of last year. He was passionate about freedom and keeping government from interfering with the most basic element of choice that underlies the open marketplace of goods and services. A unique book, Inside the Economist's Mind: Conversations with Eminent Economists ($74.95/$29.95, Blackwell Publishing, Malden, MA, hard and softcover) is edited by two other famed economists, Paul A. Samuelson and William A. Barnett. They sat down with sixteen of their colleagues, and their candid interviews make for some lively reading that even those unfamiliar with this critical field of analysis would find interesting. For those for whom economists represent the guidance needed in an ever shifting landscape of events, this book offers some excellent insights."

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Off Color Quote

In his blog, Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen chose to quote from the book a statement that would likely interest gossip-prone insiders within the profession. Here is his post, dated September 11, 2006 (perhaps based upon part of the manuscript, since the book had not yet been published):

"...very early on Arnie called me into his office for some reason, and I had an interview with him. He told me that I was a luxury good and that I didn't do business. I did theoretical economics and it wasn't something that business schools could really support, and he did it in a very obnoxious way that really pissed me off. And I said '---- you, Arnie.'

That is David Cass, from William Barnett and Paul Samuelson's new book, 'Inside the Economist's Mind: Conversations with Eminent Economists.' Their version of the quotation adds an f, but not the three further letters."

Global Warming

In the TCS Daily (Nov. 20, 2006), Arnold Kling quoted Friedman's statement in I.T.E.M. about global warming. I don't agree with what Friedman said on that topic, but of course all references to I.T.E.M. are more than welcome.

Here is the quotation:

  • "Finally, on the ultimate excuse for draconian technocratic controls, the threat of global warming, Friedman was skeptical of climate models. In an interview published in Inside the Economist's Mind, by Paul A. Samuelson and William A. Barnett, Friedman drew a comparison between climate models and the sorts of large macroeconomic models that were discredited three decades ago.

    The one place where you seem to be having that kind of modeling now is in the debate about global warming. And those models seem to be very unreliable and inaccurate. But if you think of physics, they usually have models with only a few equations. In any event, if you have a lot of equations, you ought to be able to draw implications from them that are capable of being understood. You should not present the model and say, now it's up to you to test. I think the person who produces the model has some obligation to state what evidence would contradict it."

Brad DeLong's Blog

The following interesting post appeared (December 31, 2006) in Brad DeLong's influential Semi-Daily Journal blog and in Econbrowser by James Hamilton and Menzie Chin (posted by James Hamilton on December 29, 2006). The quotation from the ITEM was subsequently repeated and characterized as a "smoking gun" in Kling and Caplan's EconLog on January 9, 2007:

  • "When Nixon himself became president in 1968 and had the opportunity to appoint a new Chair for the Federal Reserve in 1970, the man he turned to was the same Arthur Burns who had advised him to ease up on monetary policy prior to the 1960 election. Milton Friedman offered these impressions in a 2000 interview that is included in the book Inside the Economist's Mind:

From the moment Burns got into the Fed, I think politics played a great role in what happened. So far as Nixon was concerned, there is no doubt, as I know from personal experience. I had a session with Nixon sometime in 1970-- I think it was 1970, might have been 1971-- in which he wanted me to urge Arthur to increase the money supply more rapidly [laughter] and I said to the President, 'Do you really want to do that? The only effect of that will be to leave you with a larger inflation if you do get reelected.' And he said, 'Well, we'll worry about that after we get reelected.' [page 116]."