Black Excellence: Renowned St. Lucian Economist, Sir Arthur Lewis

CASTRIES, St. Lucia – Renowned Economist, Sir Arthur Lewis is one of the most notable figures in St. Lucia’s history. His contributions to the field of economics, worldwide, earned him a Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1979, and a legacy as one of the world’s most influential economist.

William Arthur Lewis was born in Castries, Saint Lucia in 1915, long before the island gained independence from Britain. While Lewis was a gifted student, the struggles of living in a colonial society presented many speed-bumps on his educational journey. After graduating high school at the age of 14, Lewis had initially set his sights on studying engineering. He soon realized that the governments and companies of British Colonies, such as St. Lucia, refused to hire blacks, and thus, he made the switch to economics.

At the age of 18, he then earned a scholarship to attend the London School of Economics (LSE), which at the time was the most prestigious economics school in the world. Lewis enrolled at LSE in 1933 and became the first black student to ever gain acceptance at the school.

With much to prove at LSE as the only black student, Lewis excelled far beyond his peers and regularly challenged his professors. After gaining his Bachelor of Science degree in 1937 and a Ph.D. degree in 1940, he worked as a member of the staff at the LSE until 1948. After 10 years on staff at LSE, he and his new wife, Gladys Jacobs, moved to Manchester, England when Lewis was selected as a lecturer at the University of Manchester. During his nine years as a lecturer at the University, he developed some of his most important concepts relating to the economies in developing countries.

In 1954, he published his most famous work to date, “Economic Development with Unlimited Supplies of Labour” (Manchester School). In this publication, he introduced what came to be called the dual sector model, or the “Lewis model”. He theorized that a poor country’s economy can be thought of as containing two sectors: a small “capitalist” sector and a very large “traditional” (agricultural) sector. He also created the Lewisian turning point, which is still used today in economic discussions of major economies such as China.

When Ghana gained independence in 1957, Lewis left the University of Manchester and took up post as Ghana’s first Economic Advisor. He helped draw up the Ghanaian government’s first Five-Year Development Plan, as an independent nation. He also served as an Economic Advisor in Nigeria while living in Africa.

Two years later, he returned to the Caribbean when he was appointed Vice-Chancellor at the University of the West Indies (UWI). He lived in Barbados and served as Economic Advisor in Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and Barbados.

In 1963, he was knighted for his contributions to economics. That same 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. During those two decades, Lewis was also selected as the first president of the Caribbean Development Bank in 1970, serving in that capacity until 1973.

He received the Nobel prize in Economics in 1979, sharing it with American Economist, Theodore Schultz.

He died on June 15, 1991, in Bridgetown, Barbados. He was buried in the grounds of the St Lucian Community College which was renamed in his honor. He was survived by his wife, Gladys Jacobs, and two daughters, Elizabeth and Barbara.

In 1999, The University of the West Indies opened the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES), which now exists on three UWI campuses in the region. In 2007, the building where Sir Arthur Lewis had lectured at the University of Manchester was renamed in his honor. His portrait also appears on the 100 dollar East Caribbean Bill.


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