Gunnar Myrdal

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Gunnar Myrdal, c. 1937

Karl Gunnar Myrdal (6 December 1898 – 17 May 1987) was a Swedish economist, sociologist, and politician, best known in the United States for his study of race relations, which culminated in his book An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy. In 1974, he received the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences with Friedrich Hayek for "their pioneering work in the theory of money and economic fluctuations and for their penetrating analysis of the interdependence of economic, social and institutional phenomena." (Nobel Memorial Prize, 1974)


  • The term 'economic planning' and perhaps still more bluntly 'planned economy' contains a tautology... The word 'economy' by itself implies, of course, a co-ordination of activities, directed towards a purpose. It implies a subject, a will, a plan, and a rational adaptation of means towards an end or or a goal. To add “planned” in order to indicate that this co<ordination of activities has a purpose, does not make much sense or cannot, anyhow, be good usage. Language, as we know, is full of illogicalities.
    • G. Myrdal (1951), "The Trend Towards Economic Planning." The Manchester School, 19: 1–42.
  • The further away a scholarly opinion is from direct observation and the more abstract and ‘theoretical’ it is, the more defenseless it becomes against insidious opportunist errors of judgment. In economics, model thinking in particular creates scope for systematic biases... But of course all social studies must nevertheless aim at generalization. It is thus important to be able to think concretely at the same time, as I learnt from Gustav Cassel.
    • Gunnar Myrdal (1982, 265); as cited in: Carlson, Benny, and Lars Jonung. "Knut Wicksell, Gustav Cassel, Eli Heckscher, Bertil Ohlin and Gunnar Myrdal on the role of the economist in public debate." Econ Journal Watch 3.3 (2006): p. 534-5
  • Education has in America's whole history been the major hope for improving the individual and society.
    • Myrdal (1984), quoted in: Revue internationale de pédagogie expérimentale, Vol. 22-23. H. Dunantlaan 1. (1985), p. 367

Monetary Equilibrium (1939)[edit]

Gunnar Myrdal, Monetary Equilibrium, London : W. Hodge 1939

  • It is good proof of Keynes’ intuitive genius that he reaches practical results that in many respects are very much superior to his deficient statements of certain theoretical problems.
    • p. 33
  • An important distinction exists between prospective and retrospective methods of calculating economic quantities such as incomes, savings, and investments; and... a corresponding distinction of great theoretical importance must be drawn between two alternative methods of defining these quantities. Quantities defined in terms of measurements made at the end of the period in question are referred to as ex post; quantities defined in terms of action planned at the beginning of the period in question are referred to as ex ante.
    • p. 34
  • Looking backward on a period which is finished, we are looking at actually realized returns, costs, etc., as those items are registered in the bookkeeping of business. In such an ex post calculation there is, as we will show later, an exact balance between the invested waiting and the value of gross investment [Phil: he appears to mean savings and investment]. Looking forward there is no such balance except under certain conditions which remain to be ascertained. In the ex ante calculus it is a question not of realized results but of anticipations, calculations, and plans driving the dynamic process forward. Had this distinction been kept in mind, much confusion about “saving and investment” would have been avoided. There is in fact no contradiction at all between the statement of an exact bookkeeping balance ex post and the obvious inference that in a situation in which saving is increasing without a corresponding increase in investment, or perhaps with an adverse movement in investment, there must be a tendency ex ante to disparity.
    • p. 34
  • There is in fact no contradiction at all between the statement of an exact bookkeeping balance ex post and the obvious inference that in a situation when saving is increasing without a corresponding increase of investment, or perhaps with an adverse movement in investment, there must be a tendency ex ante to a disparity.
    • p. 46
  • Some of these quantities refer directly to a point of time. That is true of "capital value" as also of such quantities as demand and supply prices. Other terms – as e.g. "income", "revenue", "return", "expenses", "savings", "investments" – imply, however, a time period for which they are reckoned. But in order to be unambiguous they must also refer to a point of time at which they are calculated.
    • p. 46-7
  • For these anticipations determine the behaviour of the economic subjects and consequently those changes in the whole price system which during a period actually occur as a result of the actions of individuals.
    • p. 121

An American Dilemma (1944)[edit]

Gunnar Myrdal, An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy

  • America has had gifted conservative statesmen and national leaders. But with few exceptions, only the liberals have gone down in history as national heroes.
    • p. 7
  • White prejudice and discrimination keep the Negro low in standards of living, health, education, manners and morals. This, in its turn, gives support to white prejudice. White prejudice and Negro standards thus mutually ‘cause’ each other.
    • p. 75
  • The only possible way of decreasing Negro population is by means of controlling fertility.
    • p. 170
  • Of all the calamities that have struck the rural Negro people in the South in recent decades—soil erosion, the infiltration of white tenants into plantation areas, the ravages of the boll weevil, the southwestern shift in cotton cultivation—none has had such grave consequences, or threatens to have such lasting effect, as the combination of world agricultural trends and federal agricultural policies initiated during the thirties.
    • p. 254
  • The breakdown of discrimination in one part of the labor market facilitates a similar change in all other parts of it. The vicious circle can be reversed.
    • p. 385
  • The objective of an educational campaign is to minimize prejudice—or, at least, to bring the conflict between prejudice and ideals out into the open and to force the white citizen to take his choice
    • p. 385-6
  • During the ’thirties the danger of being a marginal worker became increased by social legislation intended to improve conditions on the labor market. The dilemma, as viewed from the Negro angle is this: on the one hand, Negroes constitute a disproportionately large number of the workers in the nation who work under imperfect safety rules, in unclean and unhealthy shops, for long hours, and for sweatshop wages; on the other hand, it has largely been the availability of such jobs which has given Negroes any employment at all. As exploitative working conditions are gradually being abolished, this, of course, must benefit Negro workers most, as they have been exploited most—but only if they are allowed to keep their employment. But it has mainly been their willingness to accept low labor standards which has been their protection. When government steps in to regulate labor conditions and to enforce minimum standards, it takes away nearly all that is left of the old labor monopoly in the “Negro jobs.”
    As low wages and sub-standard labor conditions are most prevalent in the South, this danger is mainly restricted to Negro labor in that region. When the jobs are made better, the employer becomes less eager to hire Negroes, and white workers become more eager to take the jobs from the Negroes.
    • p. 397
  • Education means an assimilation of white American culture. It decreases the dissimilarity of the Negroes from other Americans.
    • p. 879
  • The treatment of the Negro is America's greatest and most conspicuous scandal. It is tremendously publicized, and democratic America will continue to publicize it itself. For the colored peoples all over the world, whose rising influence is axiomatic, this scandal is salt in their wounds.
    • p. 1020
  • The bright side is that the conquering of color caste in America is America's own innermost desire. This nation early laid down as the moral basis for its existence the principles of equality and liberty. However much Americans have dodged this conviction, they have refused to adjust their laws to their own license. Today, more than ever, they refuse to discuss systematizing their caste order to mutual advantage, apparently because they most seriously mean that caste is wrong and should not be given recognition. They stand warm heartedly against oppression in all the world. When they are reluctantly forced into war, they are compelled to justify their participation to their own conscience by insisting that they are fighting against aggression and for liberty and equality.
    • p. 1021
  • In this sense the Negro problem is not only America's greatest failure but also America's incomparably great opportunity for the future. If America should follow its own deepest convictions, its well-being at home would be increased directly. At the same time America's prestige and power abroad would rise immensely.
    • p. 1021
  • On the one hand, the negroes’ plane of living is kept down by discrimination from the side of the whites while, on the other hand, the white’s reason for discrimination is partly dependant on the negroes’ plane of living.
    • p. 1066
  • The study of women's intelligence and personality has had broadly the same history as the one we record for Negroes. As in the case of the Negro, women themselves have often been brought to believe in their inferiority of endowment.
    • p. 1077. Appendix 5

Beyond the Welfare State (1958)[edit]

Gunnar Myrdal, Beyond the Welfare State, New Haven, 1958.

  • Correlations are not explanations and besides, they can be as spurious as the high correlation in Finland between foxes killed and divorces.
  • Generally speaking, the less privileged groups in democratic society, as they become aware of their interests and their political power, will be found to press for more and more state intervention in practically all fields. Their interest clearly lies in having individual contracts subordinated as much as possible to general norms, laid down in laws, regulations, administrative dispositions, and semi-voluntary agreements between apparently private, but in reality, quasi-public organizations [e.g., wage agreements between Swedish unions and employers' confederations, and their counterparts in other countries].
    • p. 38

Quotes about Gunnar Myrdal[edit]

  • Myrdalian ex ante language would have saved the General Theory from describing the flow of investment and the flow of saving as identically, tautologically equal, and within the same discourse, treating their equality as a condition which may, or not, be fulfilled
    • G. L. S. Shackle (1989) "What did the General Theory do?", in J. Pheby (ed), New Directions in Post-keynesian Economics, Aldershot: Edward Elgar.
  • Myrdal was certainly committed to democracy, even in developmental contexts, and firmly opposed to empires. Democratic or otherwise, he was highly pessimistic—in retrospect excessively so—about the prospects for international economic development. Hayek had no problem with “transitional” authoritarianism, as in Pinochet’s Chile, with which he was associated. Hayek, an Austrian aristocrat teaching in London, and Myrdal, a Social Democrat who attempted to rally his fellow Swedes against Hitler, were united and defined by their anti-Nazism.
    • Thomas Timberg, “William Easterly’s The Tyranny of Experts: The Undoubted Merits of Individual Liberty, Individual Initiative and Democracy” (2014)

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