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A great contributor to Afro-Latinos

Social inclusion of Afro-Latinos in Latin America and the Caribbean has been a pressing problem since Spanish ships loaded with black slaves landed in the new hemisphere. In spite of the challenges, Nobel laureate economist Sir Arthur Lewis (1915-1991), an Afro-descendant from St. Lucia, did more than just succeed. He ranked among the most prolific writers in his field and left a legacy to knowledge in development economics.

Sir Arthur published 81 professional articles over the period 1941 to 1988, and wrote ten books. In one of them, he envisioned a political system in which “winners” and “losers” were replaced by language invoking mutual tolerance and compromise.

Many of his publications touch key political issues to improve minorities’ rights in society. Sir Arthur preferred democratic systems over a political system in which prime ministers or presidents rule without the knowledge and support of their cabinets.

Sir Arthur attempted to make a correlation between a country’s size and political abuse, and also between federation and good governance in small Caribbean territories. He examined reports from the colonial territories on agricultural problems, mining, currency questions and the like. By comparing different territories, he was able to learn something about the efficacy of different policies.

Sir Arthur’s parents immigrated from Antigua about a dozen years before his birth. At the age of seven, he had to stay home from school because of an ailment, so his father taught him at home. But his father died that same year, leaving behind a hard-working widow and five sons.

At age 17, he won a St. Lucia government scholarship to a British university. He attended the London School of Economics (LSE), where he studied business administration. He graduated with first class honors in 1937, and continued his studies, obtaining a PhD degree in industrial economics. He subsequently taught at the LSE and at the University of Manchester, where many of his students were of Asian and African descent, and was made a full Professor in 1948, at the age of 33.

In 1963, Sir Arthur was knighted and he returned to his economic studies while also teaching at Princeton University as an emeritus professor of political economy. He left Princeton to go to Barbados to set up the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) and became its first president, from 1970 to 1974. His experiences at the CDB broadened his understanding of development problems, Sir Arthur stated in his autobiography.

Returning to Princeton in 1974, Sir Arthur published in 1978 his account of growth and fluctuations in the world economy between 1870 and 1914. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 1979 for pioneering research in economic development, with a particular emphasis on the problems of developing countries. 

His book The Theory of Economic Growth, published in 1954, is regarded as the seminal study of the field. In this book, he highlighted the importance of infrastructure development, all areas of education, specialization in agriculture and high employment.

Today, Sir Arthur’s picture is on the hundred-dollar note of the Eastern Caribbean’s currency, commemorating his remarkable contributions to regional integration and sovereignty. He also founded the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College to provide a place of education offering instruction in agriculture, arts and science, general studies, health science, teacher education and education administration, technical education and management studies.