Paul A. Samuelson

Banquet speech

Paul A. Samuelson’s speech at the Nobel Banquet in Stockholm, December 10, 1970

Your Majesty, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The dream of any scholar has for me come true by virtue of this award. The Nobel Prizes are justly famous in the hard sciences, in literature, and for peace. Imagine then how my subject of economics – the oldest of the arts, the newest of the sciences – has been honored by the happy birthday thought of the Bank of Sweden to fund an Alfred Nobel Memorial Awards in Economics. Thanks too, on behalf of my profession must go for, if I may put it so, the tolerance of the Nobel Foundation to let our subject tag along in your festivities.

Last year’s award in economics set an initial precedent hard, perhaps impossible, to be maintained. According to the stern law of diminishing returns, that is always to be expected. In the jargon of American vaudeville, Professors Frisch and Tinbergen are a “hard act to follow.” But then all my life I have been following such great scholars and policy advisors as these.

Now I must depart from my polished text of thanks. We have all just heard Professor Tiselius say that he did not know how to give advice on how to get a Nobel Prize. I can tell you how. It is very easy.

The first thing you must do is to have great teachers. For the sake of the economists present here, let me do some name-dropping concerning my own good fortune in this regard. If you have had Jacob Viner and Frank Knight and Paul Douglas as teachers, and then went on to be blessed by having Joseph Schumpeter, Wassily Leontief, Gottfried Haberler, and Alvin Hansen – then you have met one necessary condition for the problem.

Second, you must also have been blessed with great colleagues, collaborators, and fellow students. If you have had the chance to work with people like Lloyd Metzler, Robert Solow, and James Tobin, you have met a second necessary condition – but still not sufficient conditions.

Thirdly, you must have great students. I could keep you too long mentioning MIT names, but let me merely sample the beginning, middle and the end of the alphabet with the names of Lawrence Klein, Robert Mundell, and Joseph Stiglitz. Still, we are only three-fifths of the way.

A fourth necessary condition, and an important one from a scholarly point of view, you must read the works of the great masters. In these halls I can be forgiven for mentioning the names of Bertil Ohlin, Gunnar Myrdal, Erik Lundberg and Ingvar Svennilson – and, of course, Gustav Cassel, Erik Lindahl and the great Knut Wicksell.

Four out of the five necessary conditions for scholarly success have now been enumerated. Lest I delay your dancing, let me hasten to name the final necessary condition that serves to complete the sufficient conditions for a complete solution. The final element is, of course, luck.

In closing let me acknowledge that I realize, that in honoring me, the Committee of the Royal Academy of Sciences is in fact saying a good word for all of those of my generation who have been laboring in the same vineyard.

Paul A. Samuelson’s speech to the students at the Nobel Banquet in Stockholm, December 10, 1970

Your Majesty, Your Royal Highnesses, Students of Stockholm,

I stand here tonight to respond to your nice words as a consequence of the normal working out of the democratic process: because I am allergic to committees or am too much the absent-minded professor, the other Laureates met to select a speaker without me. Naturally, then, they nominated me for this task. Still, I hope you will not freeze into custom the habit of having the economist make your speeches even if, alas, therein may lie his comparative advantage. I say alas because there is only one law in the science of talk, that of Gresham’s law whereby bad talk drives out good.

On behalf of my colleagues, we say thanks to you students for joining in these festivities. You are the posterity we work for. I can assure you that we are bestowing on you the most glorious gift of all – plenty of difficult problems still unsolved.

Perhaps I may in concluding be permitted to interrupt the gaiety of these ceremonials with one note of regret. I speak to you from the mind. If Alexander Solzhenitsyn had been here to speak from the heart, from his heart, all of us would be the better for it, you and me, all mankind and I dare to think every country under the sun without a single exception. His spirit hovers over our celebration here tonight. Thank you.

From Les Prix Nobel en 1970, Editor Wilhelm Odelberg, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1971

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1970

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