Who is Robert M. Solow?

Robert M. Solow is a notable American economist and a Professor Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Solow is a winner of both the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1987 and the recipient of the John Bates Clark Medal in 1961, an award for economists under forty making outstanding contributions to the field.

Key Takeaways

  • Robert M. Solow is an American economist and Professor Emeritus at MIT, who has won the Nobel Prize for Economics as well as the John Bates Clarke Medal awarded to economists under 40.
  • He is well-known for developing the concept of Solow residual, which explains the role of technology in productivity increases for an economy.
  • In addition to academia, Solow has also served the government as a member of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Kennedy and on the President's Commission on Income Maintenance under President Nixon.

Understanding Robert M. Solow's Career

Solow is best known for his work on growth theory, which helped him work in collaboration to develop the Solow-Swan Neo-Classical Growth Model, a groundbreaking theory within economics. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014 for his outstanding contributions within economic theory and practice.

Solow's Education

Solow was born in Brooklyn in 1924 and won a scholarship to Harvard University at the age of sixteen. In 1942, Solow left the University to join the US Army, where he served in World War II in North Africa and Sicily before returning to Harvard in 1945.

As a student at Harvard, he became a research assistant under professor and economist Wassily Leontief, and made contributions to the input-output analysis method in economics which Leontief helped develop. In 1949 he took a fellowship to Columbia to research and study and soon after became an assistant professor at MIT.

At MIT, Solow had an office located next door to Paul Samuelson, another prominent economist, who introduced Solow’s research in growth theory into his sixth edition of Samuelson’s “Economics: An Intro Analysis.” 

Solow's Contributions

One of the most important concepts that Solow is well-known for is the Solow residual. It accounts for the role of technology in an economy by measuring its productivity with respect to constant labor and capital.

The concept has its roots in a 1957 article called Technical Change and Aggregate Production Function. Based on Gross National Product (GNP) data, Solow concluded that half of its overall growth occurred due to labor and capital. Technical change accounted for the remaining.

In 1958, Solow co-authored “Linear Programming and Economic Analysis,” and later released “Growth Theory—An Exposition” in 1970 and “The Labor Market as a Social Institution” in 1990.

Solow’s collaborations with Samuelson bore much fruit, with the two economists developing work together on von Neumann growth theory, theory of capital, linear programming and the Phillips curve.

In addition to his contributions to the academic field of economics, Solow also served the government as a member of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Kennedy and on the President's Commission on Income Maintenance under President Nixon.

As a professor, Solow made innumerable contributions in guiding many of his students in their own careers as economists, including some additional Nobel Prize recipients like former student Peter Diamond, who received the award in 2010. Solow retired in 1995, but still has an office at MIT, and he continues to research and publish at the age of 91.