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“I don’t care who writes a nation’s laws … if I can write its economics textbooks.” – Paul Samuelson

16 December, 2011


Most references for this quote seem to lead back to this unreferenced one in the NY Times (

Apparently it originally comes from a foreword written by Samuelson in a training manual for teachers of basic economics. ( offers

Samuelson, P A. “Foreword.” The Principles of Economics Course: A Handbook for Instructors. Eds.: Phillip Saunders and William Walstad. New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing, 1990, pp. ix-x.


Fortunately it’s listed on for only a few quid, and I’m intrigued enough to want to buy it, so now let’s just wait for the transatlantic shipping.

Speaking of Samuelson, his nephew Larry Summers is still at large. This is puzzling, given that his many crimes are sufficiently public to have been compiled on his wikipedia page. Go take a look:

  1. michaeljhamilton permalink*
    31 December, 2011 2:40 pm

    Book has arrived. Samuelson’s foreword begins thus:

    “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” It was a poet who said that, exercising occupational license. Some sage, it may have been I, declared in similar vein: “I don’t care who writes a nations laws–or crafts its advanced treaties–if I can write its economics textbooks.” The first lick is the privileged one, impinging on the beginner’s ^tabula rasa^ at its most impressionable state.

    None the less, reality in the university displays a different form. A kind of Gresham’s Law prevails in which, left to themselves, professors will compete for the most advanced courses attended by the fewest students…

    1. I love “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world”. PAS is a smart guy.
    2. He pretends (with a wink and a nod) not himself to have coined the phrase that he’s coining!
    3. As if to show awareness of the more-infamous quote (an awareness which is not explicit) he follows up by mentioning Gresham’s Law, which, like the more-infamous quote, pertains to money.

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