Paul Samuelson

National Medal of Science recipient Paul Samuelson places the medal around his neck as President Clinton watches. (AFP / Getty Images / July 26, 1996)

Paul Samuelson, the first American to win a Nobel Prize in economics, the author of a landmark college textbook on the subject and a presidential advisor who helped shape tax policy in the Kennedy administration, has died. He was 94.
Paul Samuelson obituary: The obituary of economist Paul Samuelson in Monday's Section A said that in 1970, he became the second person to be awarded a Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. He was the third. Ragnar Frisch and Jan Tinbergen were co-winners in 1969, the first year the prize was awarded. —

Samuelson died Sunday at his home in Belmont, Mass., announced MIT, where he had taught for several decades. No cause of death was given.

"Paul Samuelson transformed everything he touched: the theoretical foundations of his field, the way economics was taught around the world, the ethos and stature of his department, the investment practices of MIT and the lives of his colleagues and students," MIT President Susan Hockfield said in a statement.

In 1970, he became only the second person to win the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. The citation said Samuelson "has done more than any other contemporary economist to raise the level of scientific analysis in economic theory."

"It is nice to have hard work recognized," he said at the time.

Like many of his generation, Samuelson was a follower of British economist John Maynard Keynes, who proposed that a nation needs an activist government that could foster low unemployment by steering tax and monetary policies, even if it meant deficit spending at times.

Samuelson's nephew is Lawrence Summers, President Obama's chief economic advisor.

"In the old-fashioned laissez-faire economy, prosperity was indeed a fragile blossom," Samuelson wrote in a 1970 New York Times article. "But for a modern 'mixed economy' in the post-Keynesian era, fiscal and monetary policies can definitely prevent chronic slumps, can offset automation or under-consumption" and can ensure "that resources find paying work opportunities."

He was among advisors who led Kennedy to recommend a historic income tax cut that Congress eventually passed in early 1964, after the president was assassinated.

"A temporary reduction in tax rates on individual incomes can be a powerful weapon against recession," Samuelson had written in a report to Kennedy in early 1961.

The cut was widely credited with helping to foster the 1960s economic boom.

"People had JFK all wrong," Samuelson, who was Kennedy's chief economic advisor during the 1960 campaign, told the New York Times in 1993. "They thought of him as a dashing, deciding type. He was an extremely hesitant person who checked the ice in front of him all the time. He said it was vanity to use your political capital on lost causes."

Samuelson's work as an educator might have been his most influential role.

"Economics: An Introductory Analysis," published in 1948, sought to explain Keynesian economics to beginning economics students.

The late economist Robert Heilbroner wrote in The Nation in 1997 that Samuelson's book "changed our vision of economics from the dismal science to a study of social possibilities."

"Economics" has sold more than 4 million copies in more than 40 languages.

"I knew it was a good book, but what I didn't realize would be its lasting power," Samuelson told the Associated Press in 1998. "I think economics -- and this is what I've tried to impart -- has a tremendous amount of human interest in it."