Gunnar Myrdal

Gunnar Myrdal
(1898 - 1987)

Swedish economist and sociologist who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1974 (the cowinner was Friedrich A. Hayek). He was regarded as a major theorist of international relations and in particular of third world development policies.
Myrdal was educated at Stockholm University, receiving a law degree in 1923 and a doctorate in economics in 1927. (He had married Alva Reimer Myrdal in 1924.) He received a Rockefeller traveling fellowship in the United States (1929-30), after which he accepted an associate professorship at the Institute of International Studies in Geneva (1930-31). He was professor of political economy (1933-50) and of international economy (1960-67) at Stockholm University; in 1967 he became professor emeritus.

Until the early 1930s Myrdal emphasized pure theory, in sharp contrast to his later concern with applied economics and social problems. In his doctoral dissertation he had examined the role of expectations in price formation, an approach stemming from the work of Frank H. Knight. The theoretical approach was carried over by Myrdal into macroeconomics when, as a member of the Stockholm school of economics, he delivered, in 1931, the lectures resulting in Monetary Equilibrium (1939), which contained the important distinction between ex ante (or planned) and ex post (or realized) savings and investment.

Working at the invitation of the Carnegie Corporation (N.Y.), Myrdal explored the social and economic problems of blacks in America in 1938-40 and wrote An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy (1944). In this work, Myrdal presented his theory of cumulative causation, of poverty breeding poverty. The same idea became a leading feature of Myrdal's writings on development economics, in which he argued that, rather than rich and poor countries converging with economic development, they might well diverge, the poor countries becoming poorer as the rich countries enjoyed economies of scale and the poor ones were forced to rely on primary products.

From 1947 to 1957 Myrdal was executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.

Other books in which Myrdal combined his economic research with sociological studies are The Political Element in the Development of Economic Theory (1930) and Beyond the Welfare State: Economic Planning and its International Implications (1960). The book Asian Drama: An Inquiry into the Poverty of Nations (1968) represents a 10-year study of the economic concerns and vested interests of southern Asia that account for its social condition.

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