Sir Arthur Lewis’ Childhood and Early Life
Sir Arthur Lewis was born in St. Lucia on January 23, 1915. He was the fourth son of George Ferdinand and Ida Lewis. His parents, who were both school teachers, had migrated to that island country from Antigua, about a little more than a decade back. His family therefore had some slight characteristics of immigrant minorities. Sir Arthur Lewis’ father died when he was seven years old leaving behind his wife and five sons. Arthur’s mother was very hardworking and highly disciplined and she raised all her sons to become successful in life.
Arthur Lewis’ progressed through the public schools very rapidly. When he was seven he had to stay at home for several weeks because of an ailment. At this time his father chose to teach him so that he would not fall behind. It happened that, he taught Arthur in three months as much as the school would teach in two years. Therefore, he was shifted from grade 4 to grade 6 when he returned back to school. The rest of his school life and early working life up to the age of 18 were spent with students or workers two or three years older than him. This gave Arthur Lewis a sense of inferiority as well as an understanding that high marks are not everything.
After completing his primary schooling at the age of 14, Arthur went to work as a clerk in the civil service because he was too young to apply for a scholarship to attend a British university. His experiences at work during those times would serve him in good stead as he learned to be orderly. In 1932, when he was of the required age, he applied for the scholarship and won it.
He was still unsure as to what to do with his life as the British government imposed color bar on its colonies and young blacks could only chose from a few professions. Arthur Lewis did not want to become a doctor or a lawyer, two professions which were allowed for the blacks. He wanted to become an engineer but this seemed pointless as the government or plantations wouldn’t employ a black engineer. So eventually he decided to study business administration and went to the London School of Economics for a Bachelor of Commerce degree. After he graduated in 1937, with a first class honors degree, LSE gave a scholarship to do a PhD in Industrial Economics, which he completed in 1940.
In 1938, Sir Arthur Lewis was given a one-year teaching appointment at LSE and the next year it was extended into a four-year contract as an Assistant Lecturer. By1948, he had become a full time professor at the University of Manchester and that too when he was only 33 years old. He spent a decade in the University of Manchester as a Stanley Jevons professor of political economy. Here he distinguished himself in academic scholarship and professional achievement earning the title “Consultant Physician of the Ailing Economics”.
Sir Arthur Lewis served as a consultant to a number of organizations like the Caribbean Commission. He was also a member of the Colonial Advisory Economic Council (from 1951 to 1953), Committee for National Fuel in Britain, United Nations Group of Experts and Board of Governors of Queen Elizabeth House in Oxford. He also served as a consultant to a number of African and Caribbean governments like Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Nigeria, Barbados and Ghana. Sir Arthur Lewis was also the managing director of the United Nations Special Fund in 1950.
In 1959, Arthur Lewis accepted the post of Head of the Department of Economics at the University of the West Indies (U.W.I). He also became the first West Indian born to head the University, serving as Principal and then as Vice Chancellor. As head of the University, he was responsible for expanding it to a full-fledged independent institution, with enrollment increasing from 690 to over 2000. He also established the School of Engineering at the University, solely because of his ability to attract funds from the Ford Foundation and the United Nations. He served at the University until 1963 and the same year he was knighted by Her Majesty the Queen. From 1966-1973 he served as Chancellor of the University of Guyana.
In 1963, Sir Arthur accepted the post as Professor of Public and International Affairs at the Princeton University. Later he was given the prestigious position as James Madison Professor of Political Economics. In 1971, Sir Arthur returned to the Caribbean to set up the Caribbean Development Bank where he served as its first President until 1973 and then returned to Princeton.
Sir Arthur Lewis entered the history book of Saint Lucia and the Caribbean when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1979. He received the prize after 25 years of contribution in the field of Economics. The Prize was awarded for his research into the economic problems of developing countries.
Key Areas of Research
The researches of Sir Arthur Lewis mainly dealt with two models which depicted and clarified various problems faced by developing countries.
The Two-Tier Dual Sector Model
This model defines the economy of a country with respect to two sectors: the traditional and the modern. While the traditional sector is characterized by unemployment and low wages, the modern sector is where there is a major accumulation of capital or wealth. It is due to the low wages in the traditional sectors that labors are often compelled to migrate to the contemporary capitalistic sectors in search of relatively high wages. Owing to lowering of wages in the contemporary sectors due to competitions, high profits are incurred and this money is utilized for further economic expansions. This is how the model describes the reason as to why there are high capital rents and low wages in developing countries despite the rapid economic developments.
The Trade Model Terms
This model followed the dual sector model, which laid down the terms and conditions of determining commercial activities between developed and developing countries across the globe. The determinants of the trading terms included comparative labor productivities in the agricultural sector. According to Lewis, the comparison between the agricultural sectors of rich and poor nations decided the trading terms between them.
Sir Arthur was one of the most prolific writers in Economics. He published 81 professional articles over the period 1941 to 1988, and wrote ten books. His 81 essays and collected in a three volume compilation edited by Dr. Patrick Emmanuel of the University of the West Indies, Institute of Social and Economic Research, and published in 1995.
Some of his most important published works are:
- Economic Survey (1918-1939)
- Principle of Economic Planning, (1949)
- Theory of Economic Growth, (1955)
- Development Planning, (1966)
- The Agony of the Eight, (1965)
Sir Arthur Lewis married in 1947. His wife Gladys was born in Grenada. Her father was Antiguan and he was acquainted with Sir Arthur Lewis’s parents all his life. Gladys went to England in 1937 and trained as a teacher. They had two daughters, Elizabeth and Barbara.
Sir Arthur died on Saturday, June 15, 1991, in Bridgetown Barbados, and was buried on the grounds of Saint Arthur Lewis Community College in St Lucia. The Cabinet of Ministers of St. Lucia took a decision in 1985 to name the newly integrated Morne Educational Complex, the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College, in commemoration of Sir Arthur Lewis.