Arthur Lewis

Did You Know Economist, Arthur Lewis, Was Awarded the Nobel Prize on This Day?

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The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences has been awarded since 1968, but it wasn’t until 11 years later that the first and only black person received this honor. Sir William Arthur Lewis, a Saint Lucian economist, made history when his studies of economic development awarded him the 1979 Nobel Prize for Economics.

Lewis was born on January 23, 1915, in his native country, St. Lucia to parents who were school teachers. He excelled academically and left school at the age of 14, after completing the curriculum. Following school, Lewis took on a job working as a clerk in the civil service before passing an exam that allowed him to receive a scholarship to a British university. 

His academic options were limited, and Lewis initially wanted to pursue an education in engineering. Eventually, he decided to study business administration, with a plan to return to St. Lucia and find a job in municipal service or private trade. He also planned to study law as well in case he needed the added job security. Lewis attended the London School of Economics and enrolled in the Bachelor of Commerce degree where he learned accounting, business management, commercial law, economics and statistics. 

Despite having no background in economics, Lewis performed well in the subject and was given the scholarship to enroll in a Ph.D. program for industrial economics. Lewis went on to receive teaching positions at British Universities.

Industrial economics, the history of the world economy and development economics were three key areas that Lewis focused his research on. He lectured on his research and even authored several books including The Principles of Economic Planning (1949), The Theory of Economic Growth (1955), Development Planning (1966), and more. 

In November of 1979, Lewis was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics and the selection committee’s motivation was based on his “pioneering research into economic development research with particular consideration of the problems of developing countries.” Lewis’s contributions are noted as creating two economic models that identified causes of poverty and factors that determine the pace of development for developing countries. He shared his 1979 award with fellow economist, Theodore W. Schultz. Sir William Arthur Lewis died on June 15, 1991. 

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