Sir Arthur was the first black man to win the Novel Prize for an intellectual discipline; sensationally he was lecturing at the London School of Economics (LSE) at just 22 years old; at 33 years old he became the youngest person in British history to be appointed Professor of Economics.
It has become the custom in the English-speaking Caribbean within the last 20 years for academics to publish studies on the lives of Caribbean politicians and outstanding statesmen who have departed this life. There have been studies on Eric Williams, a collection of Errol Barrow’s speeches has been published, and short studies on the life of Norman W. Manley and Sir Alexander Bustamante have been produced.
However, it is fair to say that biographical studies on the Caribbean “Great Men” of the ‘movers and shakers of our chequered history have been few and far between and that almost all of these books and pamphlets have been on political actors. Now for the first time there is a departure from the norm: a serious study has been published on the region’s first Nobel winner, and distinguished economic theorist, the late Sir Arthur Lewis of St. Lucia.
Sir Arthur Lewis who died on June 15 1991, aged 76, was easily the best known and the most controversial economic theorist the region has produced. He studied at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and 1933, at the age of 18, an unusual phenomenon in the turbulent 1930s, and even more spectacularly, won First Class honours graduating with the highest marks ever in the history of the LSE.
The University then awarded him a scholarship to study for his Ph.D. in industrial economics, obtaining the degree in 1940 at the age of 25. Clearly he was a person marked out for special achievement. He did not disappoint his supporters going on to research and publish several seminal pieces of thought-provoking research, firstly on British industry and then on the British Caribbean.
Arthur Lewis became in the 1950s and 60s, the prophet of the new order, the expert economist who introduced to the British Caribbean leaders the concept of Industrialisation by Invitation, or the concept through which Caribbean political directors and economic managers should bring about the metamorphosis of these agricultural ex-colonies and transform them into industrial or industrialising countries. He was the first economic “guru” of the British Caribbean and gained world wide respect for his economic models of development.
This is the man whose life and work Robert Lalljie has sketched in this slim (177 pp) study. This engrossing unsettling study is a first effort by a new writer on the Caribbean scene. Lalljie is a Guyanese-born journalist who has worked in Britain. His first entry into the world of biographical studies has been in the form of a radio study on the renowned political theorist and Marxist philosopher CLR James. Now he has turned from radio presentation to the more challenging exercise of distilling the essence of Sir Arthur Lewis’ life and work in a more conventional medium - a book.
Lalljie begins with two chapters which chronicle the early life, education and training of W. Arthur Lewis, carefully noting that Sir Arthur started from “humble lowly beginnings”, and stressing that his subject early years coincided with the emergence of the social disturbances and riots in the West Indies. There is a touching sidelight on Lewis’s courtship and marriage to Gladys Jacobs, and Lalljie also mentions the stirring activities of CLR James, Ralph Bunche, Errol Barrow, Learie Constantine, and Edward R. Brathwaite who were then “the young men of promise” in Britain at that time.
In chapter two: The Manchester University Years carry on narrative of Lewis’ early years of an economics professor 1948-53 at the institution his appointment to several committees, membership of the U N Group of Experts advising on underdeveloped countries, and membership of Q. E. House, Oxford the Centre of Commonwealth studies.
Lalljie also informs us that Sir Arthur’s major work The Theory Of Economic Growth was published in that period of high energy and impressive academic work and he spends some time summarising and explaining the concepts and notions expressed therein.
Lalljie approaches Sir Arthur’ work with refreshing sensitivity and sympathy. He stresses the originality of thought and sincerity of purpose that at all times characterised Lewis’ output. There are long excerpts from Lewis’ own statements on several occasions, including his comments to students at the University College of the West Indies on October 7, 1960. As Lalljie states Lewis painted with clarity and insight the important role that UCWI students should prepare to play in West Indian society, and portrays the immense importance that he placed on both education and the moral and social responsibilities that the educated owe to society. Interestingly enough he compares Lewis’s speech to that of Plato the Greek philosopher.
The last three chapters of his study focus on Sir Arthur as the “absentee’ West Indian scholar and economic theorist. Sir Arthur stayed only four years 1959-63 and these were turbulent years that saw the dream of West Indies Federation come crashing down.
Lalljie spends time detailing Sir Arthur Lewis’ role in the rescue attempt of 1962-1963 when he used his personal influence to help what was really a moribund attempt. The author takes us with Sir arthur to Princeton University, New Jersey where the Caribbean economist became professor of Economics and Political Affairs, the first black professor to be appointed at an “Ivy League” university.
We are given a view of Lewis as a researcher lecturer and author, and Lalljie obligingly presents excerpts from his subject’s second book Development Planning: The Essentials Of Economic Policy (1966) which was one of the first studies on “indicative planning” and the new role of liberal governments in determining economic strategy in liberal democratic countries.
Other studies followed these most productive phases, mainly developed out of his frequent lectures throughout the Atlantic and the Caribbean. In 1970 Sir Arthur returned to the Caribbean to launch The Caribbean Development Bank which was sited in Barbados. He stayed for three years, and according to Lalljie, those were essential years in this new enterprise, perhaps the single most significant “joint venture”.
Once again we are treated to several pages of Lewis’ wisdom as contained in his addresses as president of the bank. These are inspiring and perceptive statements which go far to counter the notion that Sir Arthur Lewis was nothing more than an Afro-Saxon spouting economic propaganda for the North Atlantic giants.
The book closes with Sir Arthur Lewis’ final years from 1979, when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics, to his death in June 1991 at age 76. It is more than a useful introduction to Sir Arthur Lewis and his works, indeed it summarises his life’s work so well that is should be placed in all Caribbean schools where the study of principles of business is taught.
Lalljie has given us a rare view of a man who was at the same time humble and great, controversial and inspiring, a Caribbean patriot and one who taught the Western world one of its most outstanding lessons in developing economies. The book is required reading at the Advanced Level and for Undergraduates as well.
It is obvious that such a a book should be expanded, for indeed the life of Sir Arthur Lewis needs the fullest possible treatment. Lalljie has made the first step, and important one, and we look forward to his definitive career biography of Sir Arthur Lewis, for its is clear that he is perhaps the only Caribbean writer who can undertake that vital task.
Review by Trevor G. Marshall
"I am very glad that you have produced this book now to remind us all now of his remarkable mind..." - The Rt. Hon. Lord Challaghan of Cardiff KG, former Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary of the UK.
"It is to the author's credit that his book recognises the dignity of womanhood..." - The R. Hon. John Horne, Minister of Education
"Sir Arthur was a man of high character -- humble, tolerant, courageous and superbly industrious. All these traits are highlighted in this book..." - Former Head of State Sir Paul Scoon, GCMG, GCVO
"Robert Lalljie has given us a rare view of a man who was at the same time humble and great, controversial and inspiring..." - Trevor Marshall, Historian, Lecturer, Academic
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