Robert Solow

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Robert Solow

Robert Merton Solow (born August 23, 1924) is an American economist particularly known for his work on the theory of economic growth that culminated in the exogenous growth model named after him. He was awarded the John Bates Clark Medal (in 1961) and the 1987 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.


  • Suppose someone sits down where you are sitting right now and announces to me that he is Napoleon Bonaparte. The last thing I want to do with him is to get involved in a technical discussion of cavalry tactics at the Battle of Austerlitz. If I do that, I'm getting tacitly drawn into the game that he is Napoleon Bonaparte. Now, Bob Lucas and Tom Sargent like nothing better than to get drawn into technical discussions, because then you have tacitly gone along with their fundamental assumptions; your attention is attracted away from the basic weakness of the whole story. Since I find that fundamental framework ludicrous, I respond by treating it as ludicrous – that is, by laughing at it – so as not to fall into the trap of taking it seriously and passing on to matters of technique.
    • Quoted in Conversations with Economists (1983) by Arjo Klamer, p. 146
  • Well, I certainly was not going to study physics, and I knew I was not going to study biology, but I could have become a sociologist or an anthropologist. However, I found sociology a little soft. I think that somewhere in my mind, I probably already had the notion – which turned out to be right – that if I was going to be a social scientist of some kind, I would like a rigorous social science. The analytical aspect of economics already appealed to me. That must have been so. It was not really a matter of chance. But if my wife had said ‘oh, no, economics was terribly boring’, I would probably have found something else to do.
    • in Karen Ilse Horn (ed.) Roads to Wisdom, Conversations With Ten Nobel Laureates in Economics (2009)

Heavy Thinker (2007)[edit]

"Heavy Thinker", New Republic (May 21, 2007)

  • More generally, Schumpeter seemed to be playing the role of grand seigneur, and he tended to flatter where flattery was not due, no doubt satirically. All this went along with his reputation as a casual and easy grader. We used to say that he threw the exam books up a staircase: the ones that stuck at the top got an A, the ones that fell to the bottom an A minus. I was surprised to learn that in Austrian universities he had the reputation of a stern taskmaster.
  • In recollecting Schumpeter, it is hard to tear oneself away from the exotic manner, the dubious politics, the carefully crafted image, the hidden self-doubts, the convoluted life story, the complicated relations to three wives and several non-wives.
  • In my view—and that of most contemporary economists, I believe—Schumpeter’s most original and most lastingly significant book was Theory of Economic Development, which appeared in 1911 (and was translated into English in 1934). It was at the University of Czernowitz, not far from the beginning of his career as an economist, that he worked out his conception of the entrepreneur,the maker of “new combinations,” as the driving force and characteristic figure of the fits-and-starts evolution of the capitalist economy. He was explicit that, while technological innovation was in the long run the most important function of the entrepreneur, organizational innovation in governance, finance, and management was comparable in significance.
  • I think that this is Schumpeter’s main legacy to economics: the role of technological and organizational innovation in driving and shaping the growth trajectory of capitalist economies.
  • It is possible to see Keynesian and Schumpeterian ideas as complementary. Keynes is about short-run economic fluctuations brought about by erratic variations in the willingness of investors and governments to spend; Schumpeter is about the long-run trajectory driven by the erratic march of technological progress. This complementarity only became clear later, after both men had died, when economic growth became an explicit objective of public policy and topic of systematic analysis. Schumpeter was left frustrated by the younger generation’s affinity for his rival. In any case, the “preliminary volume” never materialized.
    The world turns. Today, some sixty years after their deaths, Schumpeter’s star probably outshines Keynes’s. The business cycle has receded in importance, partly because the large industrial economies have sprouted a more stable structure, and partly because the lessons that Keynes taught have been learned by central banks and finance ministries. Instead, long-term economic growth has moved to the top of the political and intellectual agenda, and that was Schumpeter’s topic. As Robert Lucas memorably put it, once you have begun to think about economic growth, it is hard to think about anything else. It is a pity that troubled old Schumpeter did not live to see the triumph of his obsession.

Quotes about Solow[edit]

  • I don't think that Solow, in particular, has ever tried to come to grips with any of these issues except by making jokes.

External links[edit]

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