W. Arthur Lewis

Sir William Arthur Lewis (23 January 1915 – 15 June 1991) was an economist well known for his contributions in the field of economic development. In 1979 he was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. He had dual Saint Lucian and British citizenships.

Sir Arthur Lewis
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)
NationalitySaint Lucia, United Kingdom
Alma materLondon School of Economics
Known forDevelopment economics
Dual-sector model
Lewis turning point
Industrial structure
History of the world economy
Spouse(s)Gladys Jacobs Lewis (m. 1947)
AwardsNobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences (1979)
Scientific career
InstitutionsLondon School of Economics (1938–48)
University of Manchester (1948–58)
University of West Indies (1959–63)
Princeton University (1963–91)
ThesisThe economics of loyalty contracts (1940)
Doctoral advisorSir Arnold Plant


Arthur Lewis was born in Castries, Saint Lucia, then still part of the British Windward Islands federal colony, as the fourth of five children of George and Ida Lewis. His parents had migrated from Antigua shortly after the turn of the century.[2] 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.[3] 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.[4]

After graduating, Lewis’ initial career choice was to become an engineer. He made the eventual switch to economics because the governments and companies of British Colonies, such as St. Lucia, refused to hire blacks. At the age of 18, he would go on to earn a scholarship to attend the London School of Economics. Not only was this an opportunity for Lewis to study at perhaps the most prestigious University for Economics in the world, but he would also be the first black individual to ever gain acceptance at LSE. While enrolled, Lewis would achieve similar success here as he did in grade in school. Lewis’ 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 gaining his Bachelor of Science degree in 1937 and a Ph.D. degree in 1940 at the London School of Economics (LSE) under supervision of Arnold Plant,[5] Lewis worked as a member of the staff at the LSE until 1948. In 1947, he married Gladys Jacobs, and they had two daughters together.

That year he was selected as a lecturer at the 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 European nations.

Lewis served as an Economic advisor to numerous African and Caribbean governments, i.e. Nigeria, Ghana, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and Barbados.

When Ghana gained independence in 1957, its government appointed Lewis as their first economic advisor. He helped draw up its first Five-Year Development Plan (1959–63).[6]

In 1959 Lewis returned to the Caribbean region when appointed Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies. In 1963 he was knighted 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.[7]

Lewis received the Nobel prize in Economics in 1979, sharing it with Theodore Schultz.[2]

He died on 15 June 1991 in Bridgetown, Barbados. He was buried in the grounds of the St Lucian community college named in his honour. He was survived by his wife, Gladys Jacobs, Lady Lewis of Barbados and Princeton, NJ; two daughters, Elizabeth Lewis of Cranbury, NJ, and Barbara Virgil of Brooklyn; and four brothers: Stanley Lewis of Ghana, Earl Lewis of Trinidad, Allen Montgomery Lewis, a former Governor General of St Lucia, and Victor Lewis of St Lucia.

Legacy and honours

  • Arthur Lewis Community College, St. Lucia, was named in his honour.
  • The Arthur Lewis Building (opened in 2007) at the University of Manchester was named for him, as he had lectured there for several years before entering governmental positions.
  • Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies at The University of the West Indies.
  • Sir Arthur Lewis portrait appears on the 100 dollar East Caribbean Bill.

Key works

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).[8] In this publication, he introduced what came to be called the dual sector model, or the "Lewis model".[9]

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 maximise 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.[10][11]

The point at which the excess labour 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.[12]

The Theory of Economic Growth

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.”[11][13]

Influenced by 19th Century England or the Industrial Revolution. 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 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

See also



  1. "LEWIS, W. Arthur" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on October 21, 2013. Retrieved 17 July 2015.
  2. "The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 1979", Nobel in Economics, 1979. Accessed 5 January 2011.
  3. 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.
  4. Tignor, pp. 11–13.
  5. Tignor, Robert L. (2006). W. Arthur Lewis and the Birth of Development Economics. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0691121413.
  6. Felix Brenton, "Sir (William) Arthur Lewis (1915–1991)", Black Past website.
  7. "Sir Wm. Arthur Lewis: President 1970 – 1973", Caribbean Development Bank.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. "China Reaches Turning Point as Inflation Overtakes Labor". Bloomberg. 11 June 2010.
  13. W. Arthur Lewis (2013). Theory of Economic Growth. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-40708-3.

Figueroa, M. (2005). W. Arthur Lewis’s Social Analysis and the Transformation of Tropical Economies. Social and Economic Studies, 54(4), 72–90. https://doi.org/http://www.mona.uwi.edu/ses/archives


  • 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.
Preceded by
Herbert A. Simon
Laureate of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics
Served alongside: Theodore W. Schultz
Succeeded by
Lawrence R. Klein
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