Alexander Cairncross (economist)

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Sir Alexander Kirkland "Alec" Cairncross KCMG FBA FRSE (11 February 1911 – 21 October 1998) was a British economist. He was the brother of the spy John Cairncross and father of journalist Frances Cairncross and public health engineer and epidemiologist Sandy Cairncross.


Cairncross was born in Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire, the seventh of eight children of an ironmonger,[1] and went to Hamilton Academy, then won two scholarships to Glasgow University, where he specialised in economics. He then won a further research studentship to Trinity College, Cambridge, where in 1935 he was awarded only the second PhD in Economics bestowed by the university.

he became a lecturer in economics, under the considerable influence of John Maynard Keynes (author of The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money and one of the leading lights of the 1944 Bretton Woods Conference, which saw the founding of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund).

Cairncross married Mary Frances Glynn in 1943; the couple had five children, two daughters and three sons.[2]

During World War II, most of his work was in the Ministry of Aircraft Production, where he rose to become Director of Programmes. In 1946 he served briefly on the staff of The Economist, and subsequently became adviser to the Board of Trade. He was seconded to be the economic adviser to the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation in Paris in 1949. and he left to become Professor of Applied Economics at his old university, Glasgow, in 1951.

Cairncross was instrumental in founding the Scottish Economic Society and was, in 1954, the first editor of its Scottish Journal of Political Economy.[3] Cairncross served as an economic adviser to the UK government (1961–64), Head of the Government Economic Service (1964–69) and Master of St Peter's College, Oxford (1969–78), Chancellor of the University of Glasgow (1972–96), and was an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. At Guildhall, Swansea he gave the Presidential Address as President of the British Association for 1970–1971.[4] Cairncross was made a Fellow of the British Academy in 1961.[2]

Cairncross also received an Honorary Doctorate from Heriot-Watt University in 1969.[5]

In 1970 he was invited to deliver the MacMillan Memorial Lecture to the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland. He chose the subject 'Economic Growth'.

From 1972 until 1996 he was Chancellor of Glasgow University. In 1992 he was elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

He died in Oxford on 21 October 1998.[6]


The Scottish Economic Society instituted the Cairncross Prize in his memory.[3]


He married Mary Frances Glyn in 1943.[7]


  • Introduction to Economics (1944, 1st ed.; 1973, 5th ed.)
  • Home and Foreign Investment, 1870-1913 (1953)
  • Monetary Policy in a Mixed Economy (1960)
  • Economic Development and the Atlantic Provinces (1961)
  • Essays in Economic Management (1962)
  • Control over Long-Term Capital Movements (1973)
  • Britain's Economics Prospects Reconsidered, ed. (1971)
  • Years of Recovery: British Economic Policy 1945-51 (1985)
  • 'Goodbye, Great Britain': The 1976 IMF Crisis (1992) (with Kathleen Burk)[8]


  1. ^ Budd, Alan (23 October 1998). "Obituary". London: The Independent. Retrieved 15 May 2010. 
  2. ^ a b Who's Who 1974, London : A. & C. Black, 1974, p. 497.
  3. ^ a b Sir Alexander (Alec) Kirkland Cairncross, Gazetteer for Scotland
  4. ^ Dixon, Bernard (27 Aug 1971). "Science: Catching up (on the 1971 annual meeting of the British Association)". The Spectator. 
  5. ^ "Heriot-Watt University Edinburgh: Honorary Graduates". Retrieved 2016-04-07. 
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Burk, Kathleen; Cairncross, Alec (1992). 'Goodbye, Great Britain': The 1976 IMF Crisis. Newhaven CT: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-05728-8. 

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
Lord Boyd-Orr
Chancellor of the University of Glasgow
1972 to 1996
Succeeded by
Sir William Kerr Fraser