Sir William Arthur Lewis





Economics 1979



































































Sir Arthur Lewis – An Autobiography  


I was born in St. Lucia on January 23, 1915 .  My parents, who were both schoolteachers, had immigrated there from Antigua about a dozen years before.  The islands were dissimilar in religion and culture, so our family had some slight characteristics of immigrant minorities.  

My progress through the public schools was accelerated.  When I was seven I had to stay home for several weeks because of some ailment, whereupon my father elected to teach me so that I should not fall behind.  In fact, he taught me in three months as much as the school taught in two years, so, on retuning to school, I was shifted from grade four to grade six.  So, the rest of my school life and early working life, up to age 18, was spent with fellow students or workers tow or three years older than I.  This gave me a terrible sense of physical inferiority, as well as an understanding, which has remained with me ever since, that high marks are not everything.

My father died when I was seven, leaving a widow and five sons, ranging in age from five to seventeen.  My mother was the most highly-disciplined and hardest working person I have ever known, and this, combined with her love and gentleness, enabled her to make a success of each of her children.

I left school at 14, having completed the curriculum, and went to work as a clerk in the civil service.  My next step would be to sit the examination for a St. Lucia government scholarship to a British university, but I would be too young until 1932.  This job was not wasted on me since it taught me to write, to type, to file and to be orderly.  But this was at the expense of not reading enough history and literature, for which these years of one’s life are the most appropriate.

In 1932 I sat the examination and won the scholarship.  I did not want to be a lawyer or a doctor.  I wanted to be an engineer, but this seemed pointless since neither the government nor the white firms would employ a black engineer. Eventually I decided to study business administration, planning to return to St. Lucia for a bob in the municipal service or in private trade.  I would simultaneously study law to fall back on if nothing administrative turned up.  So I went to the London School of Economics to do the Bachelor of Commerce degree which offered accounting, business management, commercial law and a little economics and statistics.

I had no idea in 1933 what economics was, but I did well in the subject from the start, and when I graduated in 1937 with first class honors, LSE gave me a scholarship to do a PhD in industrial economics.

In 1938, I was given a one-year teaching appointment which was sensational for British universities.  My foot was now on the ladder, and the rest was up to me.  My luck held, and I was rose rapidly.  In 1948, at 33, I was made a full professor at the University of Manchester .

Until I went to Manchester , my field of study was Industrial Economics.

My research work has been in three areas: in industrial economics, which I dropped after 1948; in the history of the world economy since 1870, which I started in 1944 and still pursue; and in development economics, which I did not begin systematically until about 1950.

I was interested in the fundamental forces determining the rate of economic growth.  This was the subject of my so-called classic book of 1955, and also the origin of the model to which the Nobel citation refers.

From my undergraduate days, I had sought a solution to the question of what determines the relative prices of steel and coffee. The approach through marginal utility made no sense to me.  And the Heckscher-Ohlin framework could not be used, since that assumes that trading partners have the same production functions, whereas coffee cannot be grown in most of the steel producing countries.

Another problem that troubled me was historical.  Apparently, during the first fifty years of the industrial revolution, real wages in Britain remained more or less constant while profits and savings soared.  This could not be squared with the neoclassical framework, in which a rise in investment should raise wages and depress the rate of return on capital.

One day in August, 1952, walking down the road in Bangkok , it came to me suddenly that both problems have the same solution.  Throw away the neoclassical assumption that the quantity of labor is fixed.  An unlimited supply of labor” will keep wages down, producing cheap coffee in the first case.  The result is a dual (national or world) economy, where one part is a reservoir of cheap labor for the other.  The unlimited supply of labor derives ultimately from population pressure, so it is a phase in the demographic cycle.

The publication of my article on this subject in 1954 was greeted equally with applause and with cries of outrage.  The debate continues.

My wife Gladys was born in Grenada .  Her father, who was an Antiguan, and my parents had known each other all their lives.  She went to England in 1937 and trained as a teacher.  We married in 1947 and have two daughters, Elizabeth and Barbara.  My travels have meant much separation, but mutual love has supported the family in all its endeavors.

From Nobel Lectures, Economics

1969-1980, World Scientific Publishing Co,

Singapore .  Sir Arthur Lewis died in 1991.

Source:    The Star Jan. 21, 2004





William Arthur Lewis 
(Encyclopedia Britannica online)


Born Jan. 23, 1915, Castries, St. Lucia, British West Indies
died June 15, 1991, Bridgetown, Barbados

Sir William Arthur Lewis British economist who shared (with Theodore W. Schultz, an American) the 1979 Nobel Prize for Economics for his studies of economic development and his construction of an innovative model relating the terms of trade between less developed and more developed nations to their respective levels of labour productivity in agriculture.

Lewis attended the London School of Economics after winning a government scholarship. He graduated in 1937 and received a Ph.D. in economics there in 1940. He was a lecturer at the school from 1938 to 1947, professor of economics at the University of Manchester from 1947 to 1958, principal of University College of the West Indies in 1959–62, and professor at Princeton University from 1963 to 1983. He served as adviser on economic development to many international commissions and to several African, Asian, and Caribbean governments. He helped establish, and in 1970–73 headed, the Caribbean Development Bank. Lewis was knighted in 1963.

Lewis wrote several books, including The Principles of Economic Planning (1949), The Theory of Economic Growth (1955), Development Planning (1966), Tropical Development 1880–1913 (1971), and Growth and Fluctuations 1870–1913 (1978).







Given at the State Funeral, 
for Sir William Arthur Lewis 
Dr Vaughn A Lewis


"Lives of great men all remind us We can make our lives sublime And departing, leave behind us, Footprints on the sands of time"

William Arthur Lewis was born in St. Lucia in 1915, the son of two persons, George Ferdinand Lewis and Ida Lewis, who had immigrated to this country from Antigua. His mother and father were originally teachers, his father having taught after arriving in St. Lucia at various primary schools in this island, then at St. Mary's College, the sole secondary school of the island.

He later joined the public Service and at the time of his death, when Arthur Lewis was seven years old, he was an official of the Customs Department of St. Lucia. This early circumstance meant that from very early ages, Arthur Lewis and his four brothers were, if we wish to use the fashionable jargon of today, members of a single-parent household. He was the fourth of five sons of his parents.

To be the child of recent immigrants and then to be left at an early age without a father, might have been deemed considerable strikes against Arthur Lewis. But whenever he wrote of his early life, he emphasized the tremendous fortitude, discipline and persistence Of his mother in ensuring that her children received the best fiat could, be afforded; and that they took the utmost advantage of the only available route to self—impelled progress - education. With a realism and sense of humour which those who knew him recognize as characteristic, he has observed in relation to his mother;

"As a youngster in school, I would hear other boys talking about the superiorly of men over women. I used to think they must be crazy."

It is fashionable too, in our islands in these times, to decry the movement of people from one island to another and to denigrate the potential contributions of those who move in search of a better life. Clearly the life of Arthur Lewis, as well as of his family, can lend no credence to such assertions.

Having left school at 14 after completing the Cambridge School Certificate, he worked from a time in the Civil service, then returned to school to take the exams for the single Island Scholarship which at that time was only awarded periodically, rather than annually, as is the case today.

During the course of this week, Mr. Winville King has given on the radio a detailed outline of his early life and of his basic achievements. So there is no need to repeat them here. What we can note is his rapid ascent up the academic ladder of the British University system as a result of the early recognition, by those in authority, of his exceptional talent as an economist, author and teacher. By the age of 33 he had acceded to the prestigious Stanley Jevons Professorship of Political Economy at the University of Manchester, having already been Reader in Colonial Economics at the London School of Economics. Having began his University teaching career in 193B, he concluded it officially with his retirement in 1983, as James Miadison Professor of Political Economy of the University of Princeton.

Between those two dates was a full, varied and exceptional professional life, perhaps the high point of which, in terms of the recognition of his work, was his sharing of the Nobel Prize for Economics with T. W. Schultz in 1979.

The England to which Arthur Lewis traveled in 1933 and in which he undertook his first degree was a country in partial economic recession, political ferment and intellectual excitement. This was a period, in retrospect leading to the second World War , in which British foreign policy was in much dispute. It was a period of much analysis as to the causes of the great depression. The capitalist system which seemed to be faltering was coming under constant attack from those who believed in alternative forms of political and economic organization. The British Labour parity, now a hothouse of intellectual ferment, was increasingly consolidating its strength once again. London too was becoming now a meeting place for a gathering number, of colonial students and intellectuals analyzing the effects of British imperialism, and drumming at it as they began to see the possibility for what later came to be called decolonization.

Into this ferment Arthur Lewis, from all appearances, jumped with enthusiasm. In disciplinary terms he soon began to see the subject which he was studying, economics, not simply as an intellectual discipline to ,whose growth he should contribute. Rather he felt that he should approach it as involving an integral relationship between analysis and the search for practical solutions to existing problems, as a means of rendering policy advice. This brought the realisation that there might be other factors involved in the solution of economic problems than the purely economic, As he said, early on it was clear that he would became an

"... applied economist. This did not mean just that I should apply economics to industrial or other structural problems. It meant that I would approach a problem from its institutional background, recognising that the solution was as likely to be in the institutional setting as in the economic analysis".

Under the influence of senior academics, Arthur Lewis was to become, by the end of the Second World War , a recognised authority in the United Kingdom on the economics of industrial organisation. The subject was to become of much practical importance in the post war period, not only as Britain sought to revive its own industrial structure, but also because with the accession of the British Labour Party to power, the partial nationalisation of British industry induced a substantial discussion as to the principles on which industry was to be organised. Here Lewis' academic specialisation blended with his applied economics and problem-solving approach. It took him partially into the intellectual side of British politics as he became an active and recognised member of the Fabian Society, the leading Socialist research group loosely linked to the British Labour Party. It led to the publication of what came to be one of his better known works, The Principles of Economic Planning.

Lewis in a sense, by the end of the war, and certainly by 1950 had, then, become a recognised "British academic" a foremost authority among the rising generation of post-war economists.

But Lewis was of course a west Indian. And as a west Indian, part of the gathering core of intellectuals and political activitists seeking a way out of colonialism and beginning to think about the possibilities for and constraints on the economic development of the colonies. George Padmore, Eric Williams and others were in England. Pan Africanism as a mechanism towards African independence was in the air. Lewis was fully a part of the debates. But Lewis was first and foremost two things; a west Indian and a researcher looking for practical ways out of problems, rather than a political activist. So he started with the west Indies. Let us hear his own description.

"My interest in the subject (of economic development) was an offshoot of my anti-imperialism. I can remember my father taking me to a meeting of the local Marcus Garvey association when 'I was seven years old. So it is not surprising that the first thing I ever published was a Fabian Society pamphlet, called Labour in the West Indies, which gave an account of the emergence of the trade union movement in the 192O's and 30's and, more especially of the violent confrontations between the unions and the government in the 30's. This was not a propaganda pamphlet. It was based on newspaper research and on conversations with some of the union leaders."

But during the war, Britain needed all hands on deck. Lewis like other leading economists, lent his services to the British public service. And it was during the course of this, he recalls, that he realised that the British were losing the stomach for the maintenance of the colonial system. It was time now to look at the possibilities of a post-colonial era. Thus Lewis, in a sense, came to the study of the economics of development. This coincided with two things: the first the necessity to tutor colonial students both at the LSE and at the University of Man caster, in economics; and to teach that economics in a way that related to the problems which those students, may at home were civil servants, would be faced with at home. He was beginning to have to teach the economics of development.

Secondly, Lewis had towards the end of the war begun to lecture on questions relating to the causes of the great depression, the place of international trade in the relations between nations, and consequently, of the forces that engendered or inhibited international trade.

Thus began a lifelong interest in international economic history which, as is easy to see, would coincide with the question of what were the causes of economic growth and development.

So here are the various strands of that varied but, in a sense, integrated academic career, and career as a policy adviser coming together: interest in economic organisation and economic planning in industrial countries; interest in economic development of the soon-to-be ex-colonial countries; interest in the world economic and trading system as dominated by the industrial countries but also, in a global context in which the colonies as producers of primary commodities (agricultural and mineral) became fully integrated into than world trading system and therefore affected by it; and interest in economic planning and economic organisation, now in ex-colonial countries.

This diversity of interests, yet integrated interest, is reflected-in his major publications: Economic Survey 1919 – 1939 on world trade and the depression published in 1949; The Principles of Economics Planning 1950; The Theory of Economic Growth his magnum opus, 1955; Development Planning in a sense his summation of his theoretical work and practical experiences, 1966, Growth and Fluctuations 1879 – 1939, published in 1978, again on world trade; and in between these, in 1954, his famous article "Economic Development with Unlimited Supplies of Labour," in which he fused his understanding of economic history with analysis of the forms of economic organisation of the colonial economies, to produce a sweeping model for future economic development in what today we call the Third world.

But as Lewis made his reputation in this way, and as he became involved in the practice of economic development as Economic Adviser to Kwame Nkrumah, now Prime Minister of Ghana, and as Deputy Managing Director of the U.N. Special Fund in the second half of the 1950's, his own home and region remained a central consideration for him.

In the 1950's universal suffrage had come to the West Indies. The possibilities for self—government were opening. Lewis was, in England, becoming familiar with some of the West Indian students who were developing an interest in political careers.

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He was examine American policy with west Indians partly in the context of the establishment of the Caribbean Commission in Puerto Rico and of the experiment in industrialisation that was beginning to be implemented in Puerto Rico by the party led by Munoz Marin. Eric Williams was at the Caribbean Commission. Lewis was keeping a keen eye on the rise of the Labour movement and its involvement in new political directions for the Nest Indies. Developments in 51, Lucia since the end of the war and into the early fifties he would have been well kept abreast of, since two of his brothers, Alien and victor, were becoming well involved in politics and the labour movement there.

With the completion of the Moyne Commission report on the West Indian social and economic situation, the British government was evolving an economic policy for the Caribbean as it was for other colonies. Partially in disagreement with this, and especially their line of policy for Jamaica, Lewis published Industrial Development in the Caribbean in 1949. This article has become well-known among students in the west Indies. It spoke to the mode of economic development of Puerto Rico, the significance of foreign investment for development, the implications of the model for the English-speaking Caribbean. It came to be called by the new generation of West Indian economists in the 1960's Lewis' thesis of "industrialisation by invitation", and came in for much critical analysis and criticism by them.

This criticism of course could not be divorced from their perception that by the second half of the 1950's, Lewis was in close consultation on policy with Norman Manley, whose PNP had come to power in Jamaica in 1955, and Eric Williams whose PNM had been elected in Trinidad in 1956. It led in the academic sphere in the west Indies, in my judgement at any rate, to an overemphasis on this limited part of Lewis' work and an under-emphasis on his analysis of the motive forces of economic growth; his advice that development was more than economic, his study of the determinants of international trade and of its effects on Third world countries economic growth. Too little attention, in the west Indies and among west Indian academics came to be given to the fact that, his major work, The Theory of Economic Growth, had chapters entitled, "The will to Economise", "Economic Institutions", "Knowledge" "The Application of New Ideas", and "Government", as he sought to locate the necessary non-economic, social, sociological and attitudinal components in economic growth and development.

But we must pause here: To notice that Arthur Lewis who had gone to England at age 18, had in the midst of all this activity, ceased, shall we say in the social sense, to be a lone individual. In 1947 he married Gladys Jacobs, a Grenadian one of whose parents also came from Antigua. His allusions to her in various places suggest that she has been in all these years his strategic helpmate, in my own mind his chief organiser, as he moved from country to country, continent to continent, institution to institution. Her life long devotion to him, along with her strong-willed desire to ensure that things always went, always go, right, must have reinforced in Arthur Lewis his earlier conviction that those who believe in the superiority of men over women must indeed be crazy. They had two daughters, Elizabeth and Barbara who are with us today; and in the midst of this, Gladys found time to develop and pursue a career as a sculptor whose works are now exhibited.

In the second half of the 1960's discussions about federation for the west Indies were increasing, and the idea that this could became a reality was gathering force. Arthur Lewis' convictions on this matter were well known and the actual onset of federation, in 1958, tantalised him into returning fully to the region, in 1959, first as Principal of the University College and as vice Chancellor of the fully autonomous University. He stayed for four years - to 1963: bitter-sweet years which saw the failure of the Federation and then the failure of activities, in which he was intensely engaged, to form an Eastern Caribbean Federation. His pamphlet The Agony of the Eight well records his sentiments and indeed his emotions on this issue. But those who seek to pursue this course for the West Indies would also serve themselves well in reading John Mordecai's The Federal Negotiations. Both men, servants of the federal experience of that time, cooperated to distill the appropriate lessons from the era.

But 1959 - 1963 had its positive side. He oversaw the expansion of the University from a single to a multi-campus institution widening its doors, not without opposition, to large numbers of west Indian people. He wrote, for us, some important works on the relationship between education and economic development and structure.

Arthur Lewis returned in 1963 to full time academic life as Professor of Economics and International Affairs at Princeton University. There he remained until his retirement in 1983. As indicated by some of the publications which I have noted, his output of academic work continued to flourish. He wrote too on the influence of politics and race on economic development. Increasingly he was the recipient of may honours and honorary degrees from institutions appreciative of his contributions. He was made Knight Bachelor in 1963, was a leading member of all the important academic societies of the western world, and became President of the American Economic Association in.l983. He was widely honoured by the Third world's academic institutions and governments•

He returned on a full time basis once again to the west Indies as President of the Caribbean Development Bank on its establishment. That a country like St. Lucia his, birth place, should now be such an extensive recipient of funds granted by or through the CDB is, in no small measure, due to the credibility which his tenure of office gave to that institution. That our own Community College is named after him, lends immense prestige to it and to us, and without a doubt facilitates our search for the means of its development. W Arthur Lewis was an active man, in the intellectual and practical senses. He was a humane man, a man of wit, a man who believed that things, including the conduct of government should be done correctly, regardless of the criticism which so doing entailed.

"Lives of great men all remind us We can make our lives sublime
And departing, leave behind us Footprints on the .sands of time"

Arthur Lewis was one such great man - an intellectual colossus who put it all to the service of his people.

We, his people - of his family, his country and this region will bask with pride in his reflected glory.




"Summum Attingitur Nitendo" by C. Winville King. 1979.  

Sir William Arthur Lewis - Autobiographical Note.

Sir William Arthur Lewis was one of this island's best known  scholars and a world renowned authority on the economies and economical problems of developing countries, including the Caribbean. During his career he served the Region in several capacities, but is most widely remembered for being, in 1979, the first West Indian to win a Nobel Prize, which was awarded on account of his tremendous achievements in the field of Economic Science.


Born on 23 January 1915, Arthur was fourth of the five sons of George and Ida Lewis.  His parents were both trained school teachers who had emigrated from Antigua to Castries, St. Lucia around 1903.  When he was seven years old, his father died, and Mrs. Lewis, being left with the responsibility of supporting her sons, used the family's savings to open a small store, selling dry-goods.  

Later in his life, Sir Arthur would recall his mother's hard work and self-discipline, combined with her love and gentleness as what enabled her to make a success of each of her children, Stanley, Earl, Allen, Arthur and Victor.


Even in his earliest school days, Arthur was known to possess a high level of discipline and a good memory.  From the Anglican Primary, he proceeded, on scholarship, to the St. Mary's College and then, in 1932, won the Island Scholarship.

Though his first inclination had been towards engineering, the prejudice against black professionals which existed in the Caribbean at that time, persuaded him instead to study Business Administration.

Receiving First Class Honours in his Bachelor of Commerce degree from the London School of Economics, he was invited, by the university, to immediately pursue a Doctorate in Industrial Economics.  In 1938 he graduated, and thus begun his journey through what would be a brilliant academic career. 



1938 -1948      
Lecturer - University of London at the London
School of Economics.  

1948 -1958
Professor - University of Manchester.     

1955 -1956
Vice-Chancellor - University of Guyana.  

1959 -1962
Principal - University College of the West Indies.  

1962 -1963
Vice-Chancellor - University of the West Indies.  

1963 -1982
Professor - Princeton University.  

1970 -1973
President - Caribbean Development Bank.

Since 1943 and continuosly throughout his career, Sir Arthur had acted as an advisor and consultant to many organisations in various parts of the worlds.  He authored at least eleven books and published several other writings, most pertaining to the economic growth and political, social and educational changes in developing and under-developed countries.



Always described as having been a quiet and modest, almost shy man, Arthur Lewis died on 10 June, 1991, in Barbados.  Left to greave were, his wife Gladys (nee Jacobs), a Grenadian born educator and sculptor whom he married in 1947, and two daughters, Elizabeth Ann and Barbara Jean.  

His massive, granite tombstone stands at Morne Fortune in Castries and is situated right next to the Community College which, itself, bears his name.


Chronology of William Arthur Lewis
by the National Archives Authority of Saint Lucia


Born in Saint Lucia


Won a scholarship to Saint Mary's college


Passed the Cambridge Junior Examinations


Finished secondary education and gaining honours


Graduated with honours


Graduated with First Class Honours from the London school of Economics setting a record of finishing first in class and obtaining first class marks in seven of eight subjects


Completed a scholarship awarded to him for a Ph.D. degree in industrial Economics


Married Gladys Jacobs of Grenada


Joined the University of Manchester 


Managing Director of the United Nations special Fund


Served as a member of the Colonial Advisory Economic Council 


Accepted the post of Head of the Department of Economics of the University of the West Indies


Knighted by Her Majesty the Queen.

Took up appointment at the distinguished Princeton University; first as a Professor of Public and International Affairs and then the Prestigious position as James Madison Professor of Political Economy


Began his seven years of service as Chancellor of the University of Guyana


Returned to the Caribbean to setup the Caribbean Development Bank and served as the first President for two years


Received the Nobel Prize for Economics


Morne Educational Complex was renamed sir Arthur Lewis Community College by an act of parliament


Died in Barbados



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