BLACK HISTORY MONTH :: KNOW YOUR HISTORY Part 3
Sir William Arthur Lewis
Famous As: Economist
Nationality: Saint Lucian
Religion: Roman Catholic
Born On: 23 January 1915
Zodiac Sign: Aquarius
Born In: Castries
Died On: 15 June 1991
Place Of Death: Bridgetown
Father: George Ferdinand Lewis
Mother: Ida Louisa Lewis
Spouse: Gladys Lewis
Children: Elizabeth, Barbara
Education: Saint Mary's College of St Lucia (1929), BS Commerce, London
School of Economics (1937), PhD Industrial Economics, London School of
Works & Achievements: Nobel Prize for Economics in 1970,
Awards: 1979 - Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences
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.
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
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
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
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.