Gunnar Myrdal

Gunnar Myrdal

[meer-dahl, -dawl, mur-; Sw. myr-dahl]
Myrdal, Gunnar, 1898-1987, Swedish economist, sociologist, and public official; husband of Alva Myrdal. A graduate (1927) of the Univ. of Stockholm, he became lecturer (1927) and professor (1931) of economics there. His Crisis in the Population Question (1934), written with his wife, stimulated general welfare measures, which Myrdal helped to shape as a member (1933-38) of various government commissions. For the Carnegie Corp. of America he headed (1938-42) a study of race relations in America that resulted in the exhaustively detailed An American Dilemma (1944, new ed. 1962), written in collaboration with R. M. E. Sterner and Arnold Rose. It examined racial problems in the United States and concluded that they were inextricably entwined with the democratic functioning of American society. Myrdal was Swedish secretary of commerce (1945-47) and executive secretary (1947-57) of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. In Rich Lands and Poor (1957) he advocated greater aid for the economic development of the poorer nations, and in Asian Drama (3 vol., 1968) he analyzed the social and economic factors affecting the governments of Asia. A foremost expert on the Swedish economy, he also wrote studies such as The Cost of Living in Sweden, 1830-1930 (1933, tr. 1933). He shared the 1974 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.

See also his Challenge of World Poverty (1970) and Against the Stream (1973).

Karl Gunnar Myrdal (6 December 1898 – 17 May 1987) was a Swedish economist, politician, and Nobel laureate. In 1974, with Friedrich Hayek, he received the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for "pioneering work in the theory of money and economic fluctuations and for their penetrating analysis of the interdependence of economic, social and institutional phenomena.


Early years

Myrdal was born in Gustafs, Dalarna, and went on to graduate with a law degree from Stockholm University in 1923 and in 1927 a doctorate degree in Economics.


He was Social Democratic Member of Parliament from 1933 and Minister of Trade from 1945 to 1947 in Tage Erlanders government.

Gunnar Myrdal himself is known for his 1944 study, An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy, which influenced the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education to outlaw racial segregation in public schools. Myrdal was also a signatory of the 1950 UNESCO statement The Race Question, which also influenced the Brown v. Board of Education decision.

In Gunnar Myrdal's doctoral dissertation, published in 1927, he examined the role of expectations in price formation. His analysis strongly influenced the Stockholm school. In his early research Myrdal anticipated ideas later developed by John Maynard Keynes.

He was professor of economics at the Stockholm School of Economics from 1933 to 1947 and simultaneously a Social Democratic Member of Parliament.

He coauthored with is wife, Alva Myrdal, the Crisis in the Population Question (Kris i befolkningsfrågan, 1934). The basic premise of Crisis in the Population Question is to find what social reforms are needed to allow for individual liberty (especially for women) while also promoting child-bearing. While heralding many sweeping social reforms seen as positive for Sweden, the book also incorporated some of the zeitgeist of the 1930s, in its promotion of the idea of eugenics and compulsory sterilization programs, which were actually practiced in Sweden until 1975.

Gunnar Myrdal then became Minister of Trade from 1945 to 1947. For the next 10 years he was Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe after which Asia and third world poverty commanded his attention for a while. His research about Asia and the causes of poverty resulted in his influential study "Asian Drama: An inquiry into the Poverty of Nations" (1968). Between 1960 and 1967 he was professor of international economics at Stockholm University. In 1961, he founded the Institute for International Economic Studies at the university. He shared the Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences (otherwise known as the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics) with Friedrich Hayek in 1974, but argued for its abolition because it had been given to economic liberals such as Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman.

Myrdal is perhaps even more known for his influential and landmark book An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy, originally published in 1944 and commissioned by the Carnegie Foundation. The "American dilemma" is between high ideals on the one hand and poor performance on the other: in the two generations or more since the Civil War, the U.S. had not been able to put its human rights ideals into practice for the black (or Negro) tenth of its population. This comprehensive study of sociological (including economic), anthropological and legal data on black-white race relations in the U.S. was begun in 1938, after Myrdal was selected by the Carnegie Corporation to direct the study. It should be noted here that Myrdal planned on doing a similar study on the question of gender instead of race; however, he could not find the funding for this project so he never completed it.

Myrdal published many other notable works, both before and after this most notable work and, among many other contributions to social and public policy, founded and chaired the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Internationally revered as a father-figure of social policy, he contributed to social democratic thinking throughout the world, in collaboration with friends and colleagues in the political and academic arenas. Sweden and Britain were among the pioneers of a welfare state and books by Myrdal (Beyond the Welfare State - New Haven, 1958) and Richard Titmuss (Essays on “The Welfare State” - London, 1958) unsurprisingly explore similar themes.

Personal life

Myrdal was married to politician and diplomat, Alva Myrdal in 1924, and together had two daughters, Kaj Fölster (mother of Stefan Fölster) and Sissela Bok, and a son, Jan Myrdal, Nyrdal died in Danderyd, near Stockholm.

See also


  • Crisis in the Population Question. 1934.
  • The Political Element in the Development of Economic Theory.
  • Fiscal Policy in the Business Cycle - The American Economic Review, vol 21, no 1, Mar 1939.
  • Population, a Problem for Democracy. The Godkin Lectures, Published by Harvard University Press, 1940.
  • Contact With America (Kontakt med Amerika) - 1941
  • An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy. Published by Harper & Bros, 1944.
  • Social Trends in America and Strategic Approaches to the Negro Problem – Phylon, Vol. 9, No. 3, 3rd Quarter, 1948
  • Conference of the British Sociological Association, 1953. II Opening Address: The Relation between Social Theory and Social Policy The British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 4, No. 3, Sept. 1953.
  • An International Economy, Problems and Prospects Published by Harper & Brothers Publishers 1956.
  • Value in Social Theory: A Selection of Essays on Methodology. Edited by Paul Streeten, published by Harper, 1 1958.
  • Beyond the Welfare State.
  • Challenge to Affluence. Published by Random House, 1963.
  • America and Vietnam – Transition, No. 3, Oct, 1967.
  • Twenty Years of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe – International Organization, Vol 22, No. 3, Summer, 1968.
  • Asian Drama: An Inquiry into the Poverty of Nations.
  • The Challenge of World Poverty.
  • Gunnar Myrdal on Population Policy in the Underdeveloped World – Population and Development Review, Vol 13, No. 3, Sept. 1987.
  • The Equality Issue in World Development - The American Economic Review, vol 79, no 6, Dec 1989.


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