W. Arthur Lewis

Arthur Lewis
Arthur Lewis (Nobel photo).jpg
Sir William Arthur Lewis, official Nobel Prize photo
William Arthur Lewis

(1915-01-23)23 January 1915
Died15 June 1991(1991-06-15) (aged 76)
Alma materLondon School of Economics
Known for
Spouse(s)Gladys Jacobs Lewis (m. 1947)
AwardsNobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences (1979)
Scientific career
ThesisThe economics of loyalty contracts (1940)
Doctoral advisorSir Arnold Plant

Sir William Arthur Lewis (23 January 1915 – 15 June 1991) was a Saint Lucian economist and the James Madison Professor of Political Economy at Princeton University.[2] Lewis was known for his contributions in the field of economic development. In 1979 he was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.


Arthur Lewis was born in Saint Lucia, then still part of the British Windward Islands federal colony, the fourth of five children of George and Ida Lewis. His parents had migrated from Antigua shortly after the turn of the century.[3] George Lewis died when Arthur turned seven, and Ida raised their five children alone. Arthur was a gifted student and was promoted two classes ahead of his age.[4] After finishing school at the age of 14, Lewis worked as a clerk, while waiting to take his university entrance exam. During this time he became friends with Eric Williams, the future first prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, and the two remained lifelong friends.[5]

After graduating, Lewis’s initial career choice was to become an engineer. He made the eventual switch to economics because the governments and companies of the West Indies, such as Saint Lucia, refused to hire people of colour. At the age of 18, he earned a scholarship to attend the London School of Economics (LSE). He was the first black individual to gain acceptance at LSE. While enrolled, Lewis would achieve similar success as he did at grade school. Lewis’s academic superiority was noticed and admired by his peers and professors. While at LSE, Lewis had the opportunity to study under the likes of John Hicks, Arnold Plant, Lionel Robbins, and Friedrich Hayek. After earning his Bachelor of Science degree in 1936 and a Ph.D. degree in 1940 at the LSE under supervision of Arnold Plant,[6] Lewis worked as a member of the staff at the LSE until 1948.[citation needed]

In 1947, Lewis married Gladys Jacobs, and they had two daughters together. That year he was selected as a lecturer at the Victoria University of Manchester, and moved there with his family. He taught at Manchester until 1957. During this period, he developed some of his most important concepts about the patterns of capital and wages in developing countries. He particularly became known for his contributions to development economics, of great interest as former colonies began to gain independence from their European colonizers.[citation needed]

Lewis served as an economic advisor to numerous African and Caribbean governments, such as Nigeria, Ghana, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, and Barbados. When Ghana gained independence in 1957, Lewis was appointed as the country's first economic advisor. He helped draw up its first Five-Year Development Plan (1959–1963).[7]

In 1959 Lewis returned to the Caribbean region when appointed Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies. In 1963 he was knighted by the British government for his achievements and for his contributions to economics. That year, he was also appointed a University Professor at Princeton University and moved to the United States. Lewis worked at Princeton for the next two decades, teaching generations of students until his retirement in 1983. In 1970 Lewis also was selected as the first president of the Caribbean Development Bank, serving in that capacity until 1973.[8]

Lewis received the Nobel prize in Economics in 1979, sharing it with Theodore Schultz, "for their pioneering research into economic development research with particular consideration of the problems of developing countries".[3]

Lewis died on 15 June 1991 in Bridgetown, Barbados. He was buried in the grounds of the St. Lucian community college named in his honor.[citation needed]

Key works

Labour in the West Indies: The Birth of a Worker's Movement (1939)

Labour in the West Indies: The Birth of a Worker's Movement, first published by the Fabian Society in 1939, was an account of the 1930's labour movement in the Caribbean. It remained the only work published on the Caribbean-wide movement and the Labour Rebellions in the English-speaking Caribbean for decades. The book was republished by John La Rose and Sarah White at New Beacon Books in February 1978.[9]

The "Lewis model"

Lewis published in 1954 what was to be his most influential development economics article, "Economic Development with Unlimited Supplies of Labour" (Manchester School).[10] In this publication, he introduced what came to be called the dual sector model, or the "Lewis model".[11]

Lewis combined an analysis of the historical experience of developed countries with the central ideas of the classical economists to produce a broad picture of the development process. In his theory, a "capitalist" sector develops by taking labour from a non-capitalist backward "subsistence" sector. The subsistence sector is governed by informal institutions and social norms so that producers do not maximize profits and workers can be paid above their marginal product. At an early stage of development, the "unlimited" supply of labour from the subsistence economy means that the capitalist sector can expand for some time without the need to raise wages. This results in higher returns to capital, which are reinvested in capital accumulation. In turn, the increase in the capital stock leads the "capitalists" to expand employment by drawing further labour from the subsistence sector. Given the assumptions of the model (for example, that the profits are reinvested and that capital accumulation does not substitute for skilled labour in production), the process becomes self-sustaining and leads to modernization and economic development.[12][13]

The point at which the excess labor in the subsistence sector is fully absorbed into the modern sector, and where further capital accumulation begins to increase wages, is sometimes called the Lewisian turning point. It has recently been widely discussed in the context of economic development in China.[14]

The Theory of Economic Growth (1955)

Lewis published The Theory of Economic Growth in 1955 in which he sought to “provide an appropriate framework for studying economic development,” driven by a combination of “curiosity and of practical need.”[13][15]

During the Industrial Revolution, England was experiencing the worst economic turmoil of its time. It wouldn't be until an economic enlightenment would take place that cities began to shift towards factories and labor-intensive methods of production as they experienced giant shifts in the labor and agriculture markets, thus, eventually leading to higher production, and higher income. Lewis theorized if England could turn its misfortune around, the same could be done for developing countries around the world. His theories would prove true for some countries such as Nigeria and Barbados as they would see some economic development.[citation needed]

Legacy and honours

Portrait of Arthur Lewis on the East Caribbean dollar $100 bill

See also



  1. ^ "Lewis, W. Arthur" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on October 21, 2013. Retrieved 17 July 2015.
  2. ^ "Legacy of Nobel laureate Sir W. Arthur Lewis commemorated at Robertson Hall". Princeton University. Retrieved 2020-05-29.
  3. ^ a b "The Sverige's Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 1979", Nobel in Economics, 1979. Accessed 5 January 2011.
  4. ^ Tignor, Robert L. (2006). W. Arthur Lewis and the Birth of Development Economics. Princeton University Press. pp. 7–8. ISBN 978-0-691-12141-3.
  5. ^ Tignor, pp. 11–13.
  6. ^ Tignor, Robert L. (2006). W. Arthur Lewis and the Birth of Development Economics. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0691121413.
  7. ^ Felix Brenton, "Sir (William) Arthur Lewis (1915–1991)", Black Past website.
  8. ^ "Sir Wm. Arthur Lewis: President 1970–1973", Caribbean Development Bank.
  9. ^ "Labour in the West Indies – The Birth of a Workers' Movement (1977; original edition 1939)". George Padmore Institute. Retrieved 10 December 2020.
  10. ^ Hunt, Diana (1989). "W. A. Lewis on 'Economic Development with Unlimited Supplies of Labour'". Economic Theories of Development: An Analysis of Competing Paradigms. New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf. pp. 87–95. ISBN 978-0-7450-0237-8.
  11. ^ Gollin, Douglas (2014). "The Lewis Model: A 60-Year Retrospective". Journal of Economic Perspectives. 28 (3): 71–88. doi:10.1257/jep.28.3.71. JSTOR 23800576. S2CID 153659972.
  12. ^ Lewis, W. Arthur (1954). "Economic Development with Unlimited Supplies of Labour". The Manchester School. 22 (2): 139–91. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9957.1954.tb00021.x. S2CID 154515303.
  13. ^ a b Leeson, P. F.; Nixson, F. I. (2004). "Development economics in the Department of Economics at the University of Manchester". Journal of Economic Studies. 31 (1): 6–24. doi:10.1108/01443580410516233.
  14. ^ "China Reaches Turning Point as Inflation Overtakes Labor". Bloomberg. 11 June 2010.
  15. ^ W. Arthur Lewis (2013). Theory of Economic Growth. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-40708-3.
  16. ^ Sarah M. Binder (2018-05-19). "Legacy of Nobel laureate Sir W. Arthur Lewis commemorated at Robertson Hall". Princeton University. Princeton University. Retrieved 2020-12-10.
  17. ^ "Sir W. Arthur Lewis: Google celebrates economist, professor with doodle". The Indian Express. 2020-12-10. Retrieved 2020-12-10.
  18. ^ "Google Celebrates Economist, Professor, Author Sir W Arthur Lewis With Doodle". NDTV. Retrieved 2020-12-10.
  19. ^ "Celebrating Sir W. Arthur Lewis". www.google.com. Retrieved 2020-12-10.


  • Biography
  • Biography on the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College website
  • Breit, William, and Barry T. Hirsch (eds, 2004). Lives of the Laureates (4th edn). Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-52450-3.
  • Lewis, William Arthur (2003). The Theory of Economic Growth. London: Taylor and Francis, 453 pages. ISBN 978-0-415-31301-8.

Further reading

External links

Preceded by
Herbert A. Simon
Laureate of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics
Served alongside: Theodore W. Schultz
Succeeded by
Lawrence R. Klein
Professional and academic associations
Preceded by
Sir Ralph W. Lacey
President of the Manchester Statistical Society
Succeeded by
A. H. Allman


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