Nobel Laureate in development economics Sir Arthur Lewis was a prolific and creative scholar whose work on industrialisation during the 1950s-1970s was once hotly debated and in some instances, to some extent, put into practice. More recent mis-statements and even dismissal of Lewis’ work have been challenged in his centenary year. And a panel of University of the West Indies (UWI) academics this week resoundingly agreed that Lewis remains relevant in his field!
The event was co-hosted by the UWI Museum, which is currently showing a cameo exhibition titled ‘Lewis 100’, and the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social & Economic Studies (SALISES), on April 1 at the UWI Regional HQ.
Greeting participants, UWI Vice Chancellor Nigel Harris, no economist but a medical researcher, noted that Lewis was the kind of scholar who comes along once or twice in a generation; one who raised questions with which we are still grappling. He wondered about the dangers of interrupting a stellar career with an administrative interlude, but also noted the powerful role that Lewis played in shepherding a young University College of the West Indies (UCWI) into an independent UWI, of which he was the first Vice Chancellor.
Panellists from the UWI’s Mona School of Business & Management and the Department of Economics noted the renewed recognition of Lewis’ theories, including realisation that many nuances have been overlooked. Dr Lou Anne Barclay referred to recent work on industrialisation, some of which virtually paraphrases Lewis, as Old Wine in New Skins; and Dr Samuel Brathwaite pointed to Lewis’ acknowledgement of choice in approaches to economic growth, especially debunking the notion that Lewis was against subsistence economic activity, particularly agriculture.
Focusing on the elements of balance and dialogue within Lewis’ life and work, Prof Mark Figueroa of SALISES drew on 30 years of Lewis research. In appreciating Lewis, whom he acknowledged did not always have a good dialogue with his Caribbean colleagues, he noted that Lewis took responsibility for his work and actions, was universalist in his perspective but also critical, was rooted in people and place, provided leadership, was open to growth, and was focused on solutions .
He urged a deepening of Lewis scholarship, extracting lessons not from Lewis alone, but also from the way in which his scholarship has been marginalised and narrowly interpreted, with a view to learning for the future.
The Lewis cameo exhibition at the UWI Museum continues to the third week in April.