US economist, known primarily for his ground-breaking work on growth theory in the 1950s and 1960s. Solow also contributed to macroeconomic analysis and the economics of non-renewable resources. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1987 for his contributions to the theory of economic growth.
His classic papers in the 1950s marked the origins of so-called ‘sources-of-growth accounting’, which for over a decade produced an endless series of estimates of aggregate production functions attempting to separate the contributions to economic growth of increases in the quantity of labour and capital from those of technical change. One of the central findings of this theorizing was that a surprisingly small amount of growth could be linked to either additional capital or even additional labour inputs; ‘technical progress’ accounted for most of the growth of developed countries. Solow went on in a number of other articles to create ‘vintage models’ of growth, that is, growth models in which capital is measured, not simply in terms of size, but also in terms of its age structure, new capital goods being counted as more capital than old capital goods.
Solow was born in New York City. He obtained his BA in 1947, his MA in 1949, and his PhD in 1951, all from Harvard University. He started teaching at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1950 and remained there until retirement, except for a year at the University of Oxford (1968–69). In the early 1960s, he served on the staff of the Kennedy administration's Council of Economic Advisers. The council's 1962 report, to which Solow contributed, was in fact a textbook in applied Keynesian demand management, which was largely responsible for the Kennedy tax cut of 1964, designed to stimulate the US economy. For five years he was a member, and then chair, of the Board of Directors of the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston (1975–80).
He has been a frequent commentator on the works of others, particularly those who deprecate the achievements of mainstream economics, and he was US economist Paul Samuelson's principal ally in opposing the views of British economists Joan Robinson and Nicholas Kaldor in the great ‘Cambridge controversies’ 1932–33.
In 1961 he won the John Bates Clark Medal of the American Economic Association. Later he served as president both of the Econometric Society in 1964 and the American Economic Association in 1979.
His works include Growth Theory: An Exposition (1969), Capital Theory and the Rate of Return (1963), and The Labour Market as a Social Institution (1990).