William Arthur Lewis, the Nobel Prize in Economics who broke down racial barriers

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By: Jeet Ghosh

Last Update: 2020-12-10 00:20:38 IST

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The British author, a passionate teacher, studied the transition from economic underdevelopment to full development and advised the United Nations and governments on several continents

The recognitions that William Arthur Lewis achieved in life, among others the title of Knight of the British Empire , granted by Queen Elizabeth II, and the Nobel Prize in Economics that he achieved on such a day as today in 1979, reveal the intellectual height, his capacity work and human size. However, they forget the journey to reach that excellence, and that they were marked by migration, discrimination and, above all, sacrifice.

Arthur Lewis was a pioneer throughout his life. An illness when he was seven years old prevented him from going to school for several weeks and his father was the one who taught him. As he recognized throughout his life, those weeks meant learning equivalent to several years, so when he returned to school he was advanced by several courses and for many years he was always surrounded by children, adolescents and young people three years older than him. that shaped his character and way of thinking.

Lewis managed to become the first black member of the Faculty of the London School of Economics; He was also the first black person to hold a chair at a British university, at the University of Manchester , and the first black teacher to take a chair at Princeton University.

Lewis is considered one of the founders of modern theories of development economics and economic growth, always worrying about growth models that take into account the cultural and anthropological factors of the population and countries.

William Arthur Lewis was born in Castries, Saint Lucia, on January 23, 1915. Today it is an independent country in the Caribbean, but at the beginning of the 20th century it was still a British colony. He had four siblings and his parents, who were school teachers, had emigrated there from Antigua a decade before his birth.

At the age of seven, his father taught him at home in three months as much as at school in two courses, so when he rejoined after suffering an illness, he was given two classes ahead. The rest of his school life and the first years of working life, therefore, he spent with colleagues who were two and even three years older than him. This situation caused him a terrible feeling of physical inferiority, but it also forged his character and understanding, because he understood that the good grades he obtained were not everything in life.

Forgotten History: Economist Sir William Arthur Lewis - Global Black History

His father died that same year after his school takeoff, when he was seven, leaving a widow and five children between the ages of five and 17 at the time. Thanks to his sacrifice and ability to work, he brought them all forward, giving them a future with studies.

At age 14, Arthur dropped out of school and started working. His dream was to sit an exam for a scholarship from the Government of Saint Lucia to study at a British university, but he was rejected because he was too young. That waiting time, however, allowed him to read a lot, visit libraries, learn typing, and archiving and documentation.

Finally, in 1932 he sat for the exam and got the scholarship, but the British Government imposed a segregation barrier in their colonies, so that young black people could only earn a living as doctors or lawyers, and neither profession was the vocation. of young Arthur. He wanted to be an engineer, but neither the government nor white companies would hire a black engineer, so he decided to study business administration, planning to return to his native Saint Lucia later to work in municipal service or private business.

He decided then to simultaneously study with Law to have one more recourse if his administrative plans failed. He attended the London School of Economics for a Bachelor of Commerce. The studies offered accounting, business management, business law, and a little economics and statistics. He did not know what economics was , but he did so well that he graduated in 1937 with honors and a scholarship to pursue a doctorate in Industrial Economics.

In 1938, at the age of 23, Arthur William was awarded a teaching position for one year which turned into a four-year assistant professor contract the next. In 1948, when he was 33 years old, he was appointed Senior Lecturer at the University of Manchester, but changed the chair of Industrial Economics two years later to that of Development Economics, an area in which he made the most transcendental contributions to economics and science. which received the Nobel Prize 29 years later.

His research work was always focused on three areas: industrial economics, which he abandoned after 1948; in the history of the world economy since 1870, which began in 1944 and continued throughout his life; and in development economics, which began at the University of Manchester in 1950.

Lewis succeeded in changing the existing focus on world economic history and economic development with the publication, in 1954, of his most influential article: Economic Development with Unlimited Labor Supplies, where he introduced what would later become known as a model. dual sector or Lewis model.

In 1955 he published The Theory of Economic Growth , in which he sought to "provide an appropriate framework for studying economic development", driven by a combination of "curiosity and practical necessity."

Since 1957 his life has been a constant back and forth between teaching, with academic scholarships, and administration. He was also a UN Economic Advisor to the Prime Minister of Ghana, Deputy Managing Director of the UN Special Fund, and President of the University of Ghana. Later, from 1970 to 1974, he created the Caribbean Development Bank.

Google celebrates Nobel Prize-winning economist Sir W Arthur Lewis with a  doodle - world news - Hindustan Times

In 1963 he decided to move to the United States and held a newly created chair at Princeton University. There he discovered that researchers on economies, their causes and their development had multiplied and he captured all his studies on the growth and fluctuations of the world economy between 1870 and 1914, while continuing to expand his knowledge thanks to trips to countries Africans and Asians. That same year, Queen Elizabeth II of England knighted him of the United Kingdom and his name began to be headed by the title of sir.

Half of his interest in economic questions was always focused on political aspects and for this reason he also published a book on development planning in 1966, while the other half of that interest was in the fundamental forces that determined the rate of economic growth . That was the subject of another book and also the origin of the model to which the Nobel Prize was later referred.

Lewis always emphasized that economic development must present a social function and that is why all his works and research contain elements of social psychology and sociology. He always linked development to education and professional training in society.

He also defended investments in agriculture, most of the time forgotten in favor of industry, and justified it with the argument that it has generated serious imbalances throughout history, especially in countries with a subsistence economy.

On December 10, 1979, exactly 41 years ago today, William Arthur Lewis shared the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences with the American economist Theodore W. Schultz "for his contributions to research on economic development, with special emphasis on the problems facing developing countries .”

Sir Williams Arthur Lewis passed away on June 15, 1991 in Bridgetown, Barbados. He was 76 years old and his remains rest in the chapel of a school that bears his name and that he himself founded in his country of birth, Santa Lucia. Sir Arthur Lewis Community College offers education in agriculture, art and science, general studies, health, technical education, and management studies.

Throughout his life Lewis published 81 professional articles and wrote 10 books. In one of them he advised a political system in which "winners" and "losers" were replaced by language that invoked mutual tolerance and compromise. Today, the portrait of Arthur Lewis appears on the Caribbean $100 bill to commemorate his great contribution to regional integration.

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