As Caribbean netizens logged on to their browsers on the morning of December 10, they got a pleasant surprise: an illustrated portrait of Sir Arthur Lewis, whose head formed the second “O” in the Google Doodle of the day.
Today is the anniversary of the day Sir. W. Arthur Lewis was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize for his work on modeling the economic forces that affect developing countries #GoogleDoodle https://t.co/zODEor6esO pic.twitter.com/x4FSXcRPOw
— Kimberleigh Peterson (@Kimberleigh_P) December 10, 2020
The St Lucian-born economist, who became known for his “Lewis model” of economic development, was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics in 1979. He was the first (and thus far, only) Black person to win the coveted prize in the field of economic sciences.
He was also the first Black student to be admitted—via a scholarship, no less—to the London School of Economics (LSE), where he had the opportunity to be taught by some of the foremost economic thinkers of the time. Upon graduation, Lewis worked at the LSE for a while, before being co-opted in 1947 to the Victoria University of Manchester as a lecturer.
In its tribute video explaining why it chose Lewis as the subject of its doodle, Google identified him as an “African-American economist and professor” who was “one of the pioneers of modern development economics.”
The doodle was illustrated by Camilla Ru, quite fittingly a Manchester-based artist, since Lewis developed some of his most important concepts about economics in developing countries while at the University of Manchester. These concepts would prove invaluable to the Caribbean, given its push for independence from Great Britain in the late 1950s.
In 1959, Lewis moved to the United States to take up a post as a professor at Princeton University, where he would work until his retirement in 1983—but he was a Caribbean man, through and through.
Deeply influenced by the ideas of Trinidad and Tobago’s first prime minister and one of the architects of Caribbean independence, Dr. Eric Williams, the pair remained lifelong friends. Lewis also used his knowledge to the region’s benefit, having served as an economic advisor to various Caribbean governments, including Barbados, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago. In 1959, he was appointed Vice-Chancellor of The University of the West Indies (The UWI), and in 1970, became the first president of the Caribbean Development Bank.
In a Facebook post, university lecturer Amílcar Sanatan summed up the significance of Lewis and his work:
W. Arthur Lewis was a genius. Unfortunately, in Sixth Form and undergraduate Sociology we are taught more about the shortcomings of his theory and the failures of ‘industrialisation by invitation.’ What a way to minimise his thoughts, life and contributions to development economics. Thankfully, at The UWI, there has been a historical commitment to preserve his memory in conferences and architecture on campuses.
Lewis was an outstanding child of St. Lucia whose contributions to the Caribbean, Third World and global community are unparalleled. He was to Economics what Bob Marley was to music. His anti-imperialism and decolonial thought emphasised political responsibility of little countries with bold political imaginations.
We are the governors of our reality and we are responsible for our futures. His ascension to high-level institutions cloaks the image of a young Arthur Lewis writing pamphlets and notes about social unrest in the West Indies and making the case for self-determination and nationhood.
Much respect to you, elder.
Lewis’ concepts continue to be relevant to this day. Most recently, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, chair of the CARICOM Reparations Commission, cited what he called the “Arthur Lewis paradigm” as the way for the region to approach the issue of slavery reparations.
This model for Caribbean economic development was based on drastic action to support economic reform and more equitable wealth distribution — an approach which, in the words of Jamaican writer Geoffrey Philp, sought to move the region away from being “the fabled ‘beasts of burden.’”
In 1963, the British government knighted Lewis for his pioneering achievements and contributions to the field of economics. He passed away in Barbados on June 15, 1991, at the age of 76, but his work—and his image—live on.