In 2020, many Americans have become suddenly and intimately familiar with the fragility of the economic structures that frame their lives. During a time in which radical solutions to economic disparity are being urgently sought out, it tracks that today’s Google Doodle honors the economist, author and professor Sir W. Arthur Lewis, who was a radical in many ways within his own chosen field. Lewis, who was jointly awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics for his work on modeling the economic forces that shape developing countries, also broke many racial barriers in academia.
Lewis’s foundational piece of work is the 1954 article “Economic Development with Unlimited Supplies of Labour.” He was born in 1915 on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, and had worked his way up to becoming a full professor at the London School of Economics by the age of 33. Lewis was also the first Black faculty member at the London School of Economics, and at Manchester University, he later became the first Black person to hold a chair in a British university. Later, Lewis became the first Black instructor to receive full professorship at Princeton University.
Lewis was not just a prodigious thinker, but a generous one: he spread his knowledge around the world by working with the United Nations and consulting with international governments, and he also served as the first president of the Caribbean Development Bank, which he had helped establish. “I especially connected with his Caribbean roots and how he helped the economic growth of African countries,” artist Camilla Ru, the creative behind the design of Lewis’s Google Doodle, told Google in an interview. “I loved the fact that I could incorporate the vibrant colors from both cultures into the Doodle, as well as play around with mathematical elements to highlight his work as an economist and professor.”
Lewis clearly devoted his life to helping people better understand their circumstances and opportunities, and for that gift to the world he was knighted by the British government in 1963.