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BERTIL OHLIN
1977 Nobel Laureate in Economics

in full BERTIL GOTTHARD OHLIN (b. April 23, 1899, Klippan, Sweden--d. Aug. 3, 1979, Vålädalen), Swedish economist and political leader who is known as the founder of the modern theory of the dynamics of trade. In 1977 he shared the Nobel Prize for Economics with James Meade.

Ohlin studied at the University of Lund and at Stockholm University under Eli Heckscher. His interest in international trade developed early, and he presented in 1922 a thesis on trade theory. Ohlin studied for a period at both the University of Oxford and Harvard University; at the latter institution he was influenced by Frank Taussig and John H. Williams. He obtained his doctorate from Stockholm University in 1924 and the following year became a professor at the University of Copenhagen. In 1930 he succeeded Heckscher at Stockholm University. At this time Ohlin became engaged in a controversy with John Maynard Keynes, contradicting the latter's view that Germany could not pay war reparations. This debate over reparations had much influence on the modern theory of unilateral international payments.

In 1933 Ohlin published a work that won him world renown, Interregional and International Trade. In this Ohlin built upon earlier work by Heckscher and on the approach in his own doctoral thesis to provide a theory of the basis of international trade; it is now known as the Heckscher-Ohlin theory and has become standard. It also provided the basis for later work on the effects of protection on real wages. As a member of the "Stockholm school" of economists, Ohlin developed, from the foundations laid by Knut Wicksell, a theoretical treatment of macroeconomic policy and the importance of aggregate demand which anticipated that of Keynes.

Ohlin served as head of the Liberal Party in Sweden from 1944 to 1967. He was a member of the Riksdag (parliament) from 1938 to 1970 and was minister of commerce (1944-45) in Sweden's wartime government.

Ohlin on the Great Depression. The popular message in the daily press

Abstract: This paper traces the development of Bertil Ohlin's views on issues such as the causes of the depression of the 1930's, policies against the depression, the use of fiscal and monetary policies, and tariffs and public works to stabilize the business cycle. We examine about 80 of his articles on the depression of the 1930’s, published in Stockholms-Tidningen, a Stockholm daily, between 1926 and 1935. This is a small sample of Ohlin's total output of more than 2 300 contributions to the daily press – a number that makes him the most prolific economic journalist of all Swedish professors of economics in the 20th century

Our basic result is that Ohlin was an eager but cautious commentator on current affairs. Initially, he was quite optimistic, underestimating the depth of the depression. Later, as the depression worsened, he proposed bolder measures such as increased public works and public investments as well as an expansionary monetary policy to fight unemployment. By 1932, Ohlin had adopted a multiplier approach. He was strongly opposed to cuts in nominal wages and public expenditures during the depression. Summarizing his views on the depression in 1934, Ohlin concluded that it was not the result of any inherent weakness of capitalism.

Turning to the perennial debate on the originality of the Stockholm School: Do Ohlin´s daily articles show him as a pioneer or as an orthodox in macroeconomic thinking in the 1930's? We conclude that support for either interpretation can be heralded. However, Ohlin appears more radical in his academic writings than in his newspaper articles – a view supported by Ohlin himself in his memoirs.

 

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