[An updated version of this biography can be found at Gunnar Myrdal in the 2nd edition.]
Gunnar Myrdal, a Swedish economist, made an international reputation with his 1944 book, An American Dilemma. The book was the end product of a study that the Carnegie Corporation had commissioned about what was then called the "Negro question." An American Dilemma is thought of as a classic in sociology. Indeed, Myrdal's damning critique of the "separate but equal" doctrine played a large role in the Supreme Court's 1954 ruling on Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, which outlawed racial segregation in public schools. The book also contains solid economic reasoning. Myrdal, an egalitarian sympathetic to socialism, showed that Franklin Roosevelt's economic policies had badly hurt blacks. Myrdal singled out two New Deal policies in particular: restrictions on agricultural output and the minimum wage.
Myrdal opened a chapter titled "New Blows to Southern Agriculture during the Thirties: Trends and Policies" with the following:
In an attempt to stabilize farm income, wrote Myrdal, the government restricted the production of cotton, putting hundreds of thousands of mostly black sharecroppers out of work. Myrdal wrote: "It seems, therefore, that the agricultural policies, and particularly the Agricultural Adjustment program (A.A.A.), which was instituted in May, 1933, was the factor directly responsible for the drastic curtailment in number of Negro and white sharecroppers and Negro cash and share tenants." (Italics in original.)
Myrdal also showed how minimum wage legislation, ostensibly to improve working conditions, actually worsened blacks' economic standing. Myrdal wrote:
Myrdal's analysis predated George Stigler's classic 1946 article that showed the harmful effects caused by the minimum wage law. It supports the view that there truly is consensus among economists of various political persuasions when ideological loyalties are laid aside and clear economic analysis is allowed to prevail.
Myrdal's other major classic was Asian Drama: An Inquiry into the Poverty of Nations. Its major message was that the only way to bring about rapid development in Southeast Asia was to control population, have a wider distribution of agricultural land, and invest in health care and education.
In 1974 Myrdal, together with Friedrich Hayek, was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics "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."
Besides being an economist and a sociologist, Myrdal was also a politician. He was twice elected to Sweden's Parliament as senator (1934-36, 1942-46), was minister for trade and commerce (1945-47), and served as the executive secretary for the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (1947-57).
An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy. 1944. Reprint. 1964.
Asian Drama: An Inquiry into the Poverty of Nations. 1968.