Robert Solow

Robert Solow

On Facts and Theories About Natural Resources
March 20, 1975
Kresge Auditorium

Robert M. Solow (b. 1924) is considered to be one of the founders of modern neoclassical economics. He utilized determinants of economic growth to be separated out into increases in inputs and technical progress and using this model, he calculated that about four-fifths of the growth in US output per worker was attributable to technical progress. Solow also was the first to develop a growth model with different vintages of capital.

In September 1940, Solow began his undergraduate coursework at Harvard, where he studied sociology and anthropology, as well as elementary economics. By the end of 1942, Solow left the university and joined the US Army. He served in North Africa, Sicily, and mainland Italy during World War II until he was discharged in August 1945.

He returned to Harvard in 1945 and studied under Wassily Leontief. As a research assistant, Solow produced the first set of capital-coefficients for the input-output model. Subsequently, he became interested in statistics and probability models. From 1949–1950, he spent a fellowship year at Columbia University to study statistics more intensively. During that year he was also working on his PhD thesis, an exploratory attempt to model changes in the size distribution of wage income using interacting Markov processes for employment-unemployment and wage rates.

In 1949, just before leaving for Columbia, Solow accepted an assistant professorship in the MIT Department of Economics, where he taught courses in statistics and econometrics. Professor Solow’s interest gradually changed to macroeconomics. For almost 40 years, he and his colleague Paul Samulenson worked together on many landmark theories: von Neumann growth theory, capital theory, linear programming, and the Phillips Curve.

Professor Solow held several government positions, including senior economist for the Council of Economic Advisers and member of the President’s Commission on Income Maintenance (1968–1970). He won the 1961 American Economic Associations John Bates Clark award in 1961 and the Nobel Prize in 1987 for his analysis of economic growth. Professor Solow also received the National Medal of Science in 1999 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014.

Below, a 2007 interview with Professor Solow as part of the MIT Infinite History Project: