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Gunnar Myrdal is remembered as a reformer, politician, fighter against inequality, and creator of the Swedish welfare state. He was thought to be the best economist and social scientist of his time. He was one of the most important thinkers in the fields of international relations and economic development. Myrdal had the courage to get to the bottom of the conflicts between American idealism and racism. As a professor of political and international economy, this Swede got the respect he deserved. In 1944, he wrote “An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem in Modern Democracy,” in which he completely criticized the “separate but equal” idea. This stopped schools from being racist. His book “An American Dilemma,” which is a classic in the field of sociology, made him well-known. In 1974, he was one of the economists who won the Nobel Prize, along with Friedrich A. Hayek. This biography tells you more about this Swedish Nobel Prize winner and his life and work.

Childhood and early life of Gunnar Myrdal

On December 6, 1898, Gunnar Myrdal was born to Karl Adolf Petterson, who worked for the railroad, and Anna Sofia Karlsson. He was given the name Karl Gunnar when he was born, but it was changed later. Gunnar went to Stockholm University and got a degree in law in 1923. Myrdal was a lawyer, and he also studied economics at the same university.

In 1927, Myrdal got a Juris Doctor degree in economics, which led to him being chosen as an instructor in political economy. Professor Myrdal also taught, but he was also involved in Swedish politics. In 1934, he joined the Social Democratic Party in the Senate. In his dissertation, he looked at how the expected price formation is important.

Myrdal went to school in Britain and Germany between 1925 and 1929. After that, the Rockefeller Institute gave him a fellowship, and in 1929, he went to the United States.

Gunnar got a job at the Post Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, Switzerland, as an Associate Professor. He took over the Lars Hierta Chair of Political Economy and Public Finance at the University of Stockholm from Gustav Cassel.

In 1933, Myrdal was a member of Parliament for the Social Democrats. In 1934, he and his wife Alva Myrdal wrote a book called “Crisis in the Population Question.” Gustav Moller, the Minister of Social Affairs, thought it was such a good piece of work that he used it to help families in social ways.

“Contact with America,” which he wrote in 1941, was another book he put out. During World War II, he was against the Nazis and praised the democratic institutions in the United States.

In the Tage Erlander government, from 1945 to 1947, he was in charge of trade. He worked as an economics professor at the Stockholm School of Economics during this time. Later, Myrdal was criticized for the financial deals he made with the Soviet Union. He was also blamed for the financial crisis in Sweden in 1947.

Myrdal was the Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Europe in the same year. Dr. Myrdal stayed in that job for ten years. In 1957, he quit as Executive Secretary, but not before starting some of the most important research centers for economic research and policy development.

Myrdal was very against the Vietnam War, and in his book “Asian Drama,” he wrote that the way land was given out and other changes would not help Vietnam. Because of this, the US started talking with North Vietnam.

After Myrdal got home, he was put in charge of the Swedish Vietnam Committee. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute was also under his control.

Gunnar Myrdal’s Publications

“The Political Element in the Development of Economic Theory” was published by Myrdal in 1929. In the late 1920s, math models were very popular, and Myrdal was very interested in them. The Econometric Society, which was based in London, was started with his help.

Later, he criticized the uneven flow of wealth, even though the economy was growing, and the use of bad statistics to explain it. Myrdal then used Greek letters to fill in the missing information. He also said, “Correlations are not explanations, and they can be as false as the fact that there is a high correlation between foxes and divorces in Finland.”

Gunnar was a big fan of the idea that John Maynard Keynes came up with. He said that the main point of national budgets and how they are managed was to either speed up or slow down economies. This idea was already in his book “Monetary Economics,” which came out in 1926, four years before Keynes’ “General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money” came out in 1932.

Myrdal did a thorough study of the sociological, anthropological, economic, and legal facts about the different relationships between people of different races in the United States. This began in 1938, and the Carnegie Corporation helped pay for it.

1944’s “An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy” was one of Myrdal’s best works. This is still thought of as a classic in sociology. The book was written by R.M.E. Sterner and Arnold Rose together. It looked at race relations as a dilemma and brought up the “Negro question.”

When the Brown vs. Board of Education case was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954, it gave his ideas about racism more support. So, there was no longer separation by race in public schools. In the same way, Myrdal wanted to work on gender inequality, but she didn’t have enough money to do it, so it was left unfinished.

Gunnar Myrdal’s Contributions

In the book “Asian Drama,” under the title “The Beam in Your Eyes,” he introduced the idea of scientific relativism of values. This meant that he didn’t just talk about economics in his theories. In his article “Value in Social Theory,” he gave political science a lot of attention and said that he thought it was more descriptive than economics. As a professional, Myrdal connected the different parts of politics, sociology, and economics.

Myrdal’s Personal Life

In 1919, Gunnar Myrdal met his wife. Alva Reimer was one of the five kids. Her father was a contractor who lived 60 miles west of Stockholm. Alva went to the University of Stockholm to get her degree. After that, she got a good job with UNESCO and the UN. By 1924, she was a diplomat and a politician by trade.

Myrdal got married the same year she did. Alva then became Sweden’s Minister of Disarmament and Church, and he was also the Swedish Ambassador to India. Kaj Folster, Sissela Bok, and Jan Myrdal, the couple’s daughters and son, were all raised by the two of them.

Before he died, he was in the hospital for almost two months. He died on May 17, 1987, in Danderyd, a hospital near Stockholm. His daughter Kaj and grandson Jake were also there at the time.

Gunnar Myrdal’s Works

The role of politics in the growth of economic theory (1930)
Monetary Equilibrium (1939, Economics)
The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy: An American Conundrum (1944)
The theory of economics and underdeveloped areas 1957
Beyond the Welfare State: Economic Planning and What It Means for the Rest of the World (1960)
Asian Drama: An Investigation of Nations’ Poverty (1968)
Keeping an open mind in social research (1969)
The Problem of World Poverty: An Outline of a World Program to Fight Poverty (1970)
Critical Essays on Economics: Against the Stream (1972)
The Question of Equal Treatment in World Development (1975)
States are becoming more dependent on each other, but international cooperation isn’t working (1977)

Awards and Honors

He won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics (Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences) in 1974 for his theory of “money and economic fluctuations” and his “penetrating analysis of the interdependence of economic, social, and institutional phenomena.” He told Friedrich Hayek about it.

Myrdal started the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and led it as its head. Because of what he did for social democracy, he was called the “father of social policy.” Through his idea of circular cumulative causation, he also contributed to what is now called “non-equilibrium economics.”

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