Paul Samuelson was the first American to win a Nobel for Economics. He, like Milton Friedman, who he often debated, was very influential and considered one of the important economists in American history. I have to check this but I believe Ben Bernanke studied at MIT, which means he would have studied under Samuelson. Also, Samuelson was Lawrence Summers’ uncle.
The NY Times business section has this terrific, fascinating report on Sauelson’s extraordinary life and career, including the part where they write about how MIT was able to pull him away from Harvard:
Mr. Samuelson earned his masterâ€™s degree from Harvard in 1936 and a Ph.D. in 1941. He wrote his thesis between 1937 and 1940 as a member of the prestigious Harvard Society of Junior Fellows. In 1940, Harvard offered him an instructorship, which he accepted, but a month later M.I.T. invited him to become an assistant professor.
Harvard made no attempt to keep him, even though he had by then developed an international following. Mr. Solow said of the Harvard economics department at the time: â€œYou could be disqualified for a job if you were either smart or Jewish or Keynesian. So what chance did this smart, Jewish, Keynesian have?â€
Indeed, American university life before World War II was anti-Semitic in a way that hardly seemed possible later, and Harvard, along with Yale and Princeton, was a flagrant example.
Times have changed…