Biography and History

Ragnar Nurkse (1907-1959) was a leading scholar of international economics, international finance and economic development. He served in the League of Nations from 1934 to 1945 and taught at Columbia University from 1945 to 1958.

Ragnar Nurkse was born October 5, 1907 in Tallinn, Estonia. His family immigrated to Canada in the early 1930s. He married Harriet Berger of Englewood, New Jersey in 1946 and they had two sons, Dennis and Peter. Nurkse received his education at the University of Tartu, Estonia, from 1926 to 1928 and then the University of Edinburgh. He graduated from Edinburgh with a first class degree in Economics, under Professor F.W. Ogilvie, in 1932. He also earned a Carnegie Fellowship to study at the University of Vienna from 1932 to 1934. While in Vienna, he published his first economics article, entitled "Cause and Effects of Capital Movements," in German. His first book, which was on the same subject and also in German, was published in 1935.

He served in the Financial Section and Economic Intelligence Service of the League of Nations from 1934 to 1945. Nurkse was the financial analyst and was largely responsible for the annual Monetary Review. He was also involved with the publication of The Review of World Trade, World Economic Surveys, and the report of the Delegation on Economic Depressions entitled "The Transition from War to Peace Economy." League of Nations reports are typically published anonymously, but Nurkse is the author of The International Currency Experience, 1944 (except for Chapter VI), a classic in the field of international finance, and also wrote the first analytical section of The Course and Control of Inflation, 1946.

In 1945, Nurkse was offered a position in the International Monetary Fund, but he chose instead to accept an appointment at Columbia University in New York City. He was a Visiting Lecturer in Economics at Columbia University from 1945 to 1946, taught at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, from 1946 to 1947, and then returned to Columbia as an Associate Professor of Economics in 1947. In 1949, he was promoted to Full Professor of Economics, a position which he held until his death in 1959. He taught international economics, economic development, and money and banking.

Nurkse was an important figure in economic development theory as an early advocate of the "balanced growth" doctrine. He also continued to build on the Rostenstein-Rodan Theory of the Big Push and anticipated portions of the Lewis doctrine, emphasizing the role of savings and capital formation in economic development. Among his major works are International Currency Experience: Lessons of the Interwar Period (1944), Conditions of International Monetary Equilibrium (1945), and Problems of Capital Formation in Underdeveloped Countries (1953).

He spent a sabbatical at Nuffield College, Oxford from 1954 to 1955, and from 1958 to 1959 he studied economic development in Geneva and lectured around the world. The majority of his later writings, on problems of economic development and international trade, were derived from lectures given at Cairo, Istanbul, Rio de Janeiro, Singapore, and Stockholm, as well as his Columbia lecture courses.

In 1958, Ragnar Nurkse was offered a Professorship of Economics and the Director of International Finance Section position at Princeton University. He accepted, seeking to work in a smaller city. However, when Nurkse returned to Geneva in the spring of 1959, after delivering the Wicksell Memorial Lectures in Stockholm, he died suddenly at the age of 52. At the time of his death, he was working on a comprehensive book on trade and development.

Source: From the finding aid for MC173

  • Ragnar Nurkse Papers. 1930-1960 (inclusive), 1945-1959 (bulk).

    Call Number: MC173

    Ragnar Nurkse (1907-1959) was a leading scholar of international economics, international finance and economic development. He served in the League of Nations from 1934 to 1945 and taught at Columbia University from 1945 to 1958. Nurse's papers document his scholarly work at both the League of Nations and Columbia, and includes his research notes, drafts of articles and books, research materials and a small amount of correspondence.

  • Ragnar Nurkse Papers. 1930-1960 (inclusive), 1945-1959 (bulk).

    Call Number: MC173

    Ragnar Nurkse (1907-1959) was a leading scholar of international economics, international finance and economic development. He served in the League of Nations from 1934 to 1945 and taught at Columbia University from 1945 to 1958. Nurse's papers document his scholarly work at both the League of Nations and Columbia, and includes his research notes, drafts of articles and books, research materials and a small amount of correspondence.