Sir Arthur Lewis Biography


Birthday: January 23, 1915 (Aquarius)

Born In: Castries, Saint Lucia

Sir Arthur Lewis was a Saint Lucian economist who was well known for his contributions in the field of economic development. When blacks were normally barred from that academic profession, Sir Arthur Lewis broke one barrier after another by the sheer dint of his brilliance. He was a scholar and served as an economic advisor to many international commissions and to several African, Asian and Caribbean governments. He was also the first Black professor in Britain’s university system and also at Princeton University in the United States later on. Arthur Lewis was the first person of African origin to receive a Nobel Prize in a field other than peace. He contributed significantly to the British government policy in his early years, and later in his life applied his economic development ideas as a consultant to various African governments. Sir Arthur had an illustrious carrier not only in academics. He spent the same number of years in administration too. You can find more information on this brilliant personality in the biography given below.

Quick Facts

British Celebrities Born In January

Also Known As: William Arthur Lewis, Sir William Arthur Lewis, W. Arthur Lewis

Died At Age: 76


Spouse/Ex-: Gladys Jacobs Lewis (m. 1947–1991), Gladys Jacobs Lewis (m. 1947–1991)

father: George Ferdinand Lewis

mother: Ida Louisa Lewis

children: Barbara Lewis, Elizabeth Lewis

Born Country: Saint Lucia

Economists British Men

Died on: June 15, 1991

place of death: Bridgetown, Barbados

Notable Alumni: London School Of Economics

More Facts

education: Saint Mary's College of St Lucia (1929), BS Commerce, London School of Economics (1937), PhD Industrial Economics, London School of Economics (1940)

awards: 1979 - Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences

Childhood & Early Life

Sir Arthur Lewis was born William Arthur Lewis, on January 23, 1915, in Castries, Saint Lucia, to George Ferdinand Lewis and Ida Louisa Lewis. He was born as fourth among five children in the middle class family. His parents had immigrated to Saint Lucia, from Antigua, at the turn of the 20th century.

When Arthur was born, Saint Lucia was a British colony. Thus, since the beginning, Arthur harboured anti-imperialism sentiments. Arthur’s father wanted him to become a lawyer, and being an economist was not his plan. Arthur’s father passed away when he was 7 years old. Arthur and his four brothers were raised by his mother who worked to provide for the family.

Arthur was an academically gifted child who was promoted to two classes ahead of his age. It happened when he was 7 years old and fell sick with an illness. For the next three months, his father became his teacher and covered a lot of his school syllabus. When Arthur returned to the school three months later, he had already covered two years worth of study material. As a result, he completed his school curriculum when he was 14 years old.

Following his high school graduation, he aspired to join a college for further studies. But he was very young at 14 to attempt a scholarship at a British university. Hence, he worked as a clerk for two years, before he became eligible for a scholarship.

He eventually enrolled at the London School of Economics, on a scholarship and aimed to pursue business administration. He wanted to enter the private sector or the British St. Lucia’s government sector.

He became interested in economics during his college years when he began thinking about why some countries were rich and some were poor. Hence, he took economics and graduated in 1937 with first-class honour. He further pursued a degree in industrial economics.  He completed his PhD in 1940 and took a teaching position at the London School of Economics.

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While at the college, he became a part of the League of Coloured People. It was a group formed by some black intelligentsia from London. Arthur served as a writer for the group’s publication named The Keys. He was a socialist from his political inclination and believed that the collective progress of a civilization can bring an end to racial discrimination.

He was one of the top students in the class and following his graduation in economics from the college in 1937, he began teaching at the London School of Economics. He was the first black member of the college faculty during that time. He was later promoted to the position of assistant professor. He worked at the LSE faculty until 1948.

His mentors wrote many recommendation letters to other universities such as the University of Liverpool, where Arthur applied for teaching jobs. The University of Liverpool rejected his application on racial grounds in 1948. However, the university management later invited him over to meet other staff and faculty members first before joining. Arthur declined the offer.

Eventually, he was hired by the University of Manchester later that year. Hence, he became the first black university professor in Britain.

His area of expertise was industrial economics at first, in which he pursued his PhD. But while he was still an assistant professor at the LSE, he had begun studying the history of the world economy. When he entered the University of Manchester, it became his main subject for teaching.

The chairman of the university’s economics department suggested he focus on the world economics between the first and the Second World Wars. Arthur said that he had no idea about the subject. But he eventually began studying and teaching it. He overtime became so influential with the subject that he ended up writing his first book, titled Economic Survey, 1919–38, on it. The book was based on his studies of the dynamic state of economics post-war.

He taught at Manchester University until 1957. During that time, he developed many concepts about capital and wages patterns in developing countries. Initially, he was not much interested in studying the economy of developing countries as they were mostly under the rules of western imperialism. However, following the Second World War, many former British colonies began gaining their independence from the British, and hence, he became deeply involved in the economic studies of those African and Asian nations.

In addition to his teaching career, Arthur was offered to work as the economic advisor for the many Caribbean and African countries, such as Ghana, Jamaica, Nigeria and Barbados. In 1957, when Ghana finally gained its independence, it needed to rebuild its economy. Arthur was then appointed as the first economic advisor of now-free Ghana. It was the same year when he resigned from his teaching position at the University of Manchester. He played an instrumental role in forging the first five-year plan of Ghana.

In 1959, he returned to West Indies and became the Vice-Chancellor of the University of West Indies. In 1963, he was awarded a knighthood by the British Government and in the same year, he was appointed to a teaching position at the University of Princeton. He thus moved to the United States and taught there for the next two decades. He was the first Black University professor in the USA who was given a full professorship.

He later served as the first President of the Caribbean Development Bank and served there from 1970 to 1973.

For his pioneering research in economic development research, particularly for the developing countries, he was awarded a Nobel Prize in economics in 1979. He shared the award with Theodore Schultz.

Arthur had written about 12 books on economics and is widely hailed as one of the greatest economists of the 20th century. Among his most popular books are- The Theory of Economic Growth, The Principle of Economic Planning and Labour in the West Indies: The Birth of a Workers’ Movement. He further wrote a famous article titled ‘Economic Development with Unlimited Supplies of Labour’, which is also known as the ‘Lewis Model’.

Personal Life & Death

Sir Arthur Lewis married Gladys Jacobs in 1947 and the couple had two daughters together.

When Arthur first moved to London, he heard a lot of reports about racism. He related to it after he moved to London. However, he mentioned that the people of Denmark were much more welcoming.

He passed away on June 15, 1991, in Bridgetown, Barbados. He was 76 years old at the time of his demise.

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