DEFINITION of Sir Arthur Lewis

Sir Arthur Lewis was an economist who won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1979, for his research on development economics. The "Lewis Model" was developed in his publications in the 1950s and as a lecturer throughout his life. The model helps to explain economic growth in developing economies in terms of industrial growth and labor growth.

BREAKING DOWN Sir Arthur Lewis

Sir Arthur Lewis was born in 1915 in in St. Lucia, and he showed early intellectual prowess when he skipped two grades.  Upon leaving high school at 14, Lewis took a job as a clerk for the civil service before being allowed to sit for an examination to attend a British University on scholarship at 17. 

Lewis won the scholarship and wished to study engineering, but because of his color (black), the time and place he was born, he chose business administration because of the color bar in England. He attended the London School of Economics and received first grade honors for his work on the economics portion of his studies and was offered a scholarship to pursue his PhD at LSE in Industrial Economics. Upon the completion of his PhD, he was offered an Assistant Lecturer position at LSE, and in 1948 at age 33, he became a full professor at the University of Manchester.

Between receiving his PhD and becoming a full professor, Lewis focused his research on three main areas: industrial economics which he would later abandon; the history of the world economy between 1870 and World War One; and development economics, where he would make his most significant contributions. 

In 1954, Lewis published “Economic Development with Unlimited Supplies of Labour,” wherein he introduced and developed the “dual sector model” which soon became known as “the Lewis model,” in honor of his articulation of the idea. In 1955, he published “The Theory of Economic Growth,” in which he proposed a means with which to approach and practice economic developed. These two works formed the basis of his contributions to development economics and later resulted in his Nobel Prize in Economics.

In addition to teaching and administrative work, Lewis also served as a UN adviser to the nation state of Ghana, and helped set up the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) in Barbados and later became its President.

In 1963, Lewis was knighted for his contributions to economics and he was offered a University President position at Princeton University.  He would remain there until his retirement in 1983, teaching for twenty years.  He died in 1991 at the age of 76, and the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College on St. Lucia is named in his honor. In 2006, Princeton University Press also honored him with a book titled “W. Arthur Lewis and the Birth of Development Economics.”