Ragnar Nurkse

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Ragnar Nurkse
Born(1907-10-05)October 5, 1907
DiedMay 6, 1959(1959-05-06) (aged 51)
InstitutionColumbia University
Princeton University
University of Oxford
University of Geneva
Alma materDomschule zu Reval, Tallinn
University of Tartu
University of Edinburgh
University of Vienna
ContributionsBalanced Growth Theory

Ragnar Wilhelm Nurkse (5 October [O.S. 22 September] 1907, Käru, Estonia (then Russian Empire) – 6 May 1959, Mont Pèlerin, Switzerland) was an Estonian-American[1] economist and policy maker mainly in the fields of international finance and economic development. He is considered the pioneer of Balanced Growth Theory.[2]


Ragnar Nurkse was born in Käru village, Governorate of Livonia of the Russian Empire (now in Türi Parish, Järva County, Estonia), son of an Estonian father who worked himself up from lumberjack to estate manager, and an Estonian-Swedish mother. His parents emigrated to Canada in 1928.

After finishing primary school, Nurkse attended the Domschule zu Reval in Tallinn, the most prestigious, German-language secondary school in the city, from where he graduated with higher honors in 1926. He continued his education at the law and economics' departments of the University of Tartu in 1926–1928, and then in economics at the University of Edinburgh. He graduated with a first class degree in economics, under professor Sir Frederick Ogilvie, in 1932. He earned a Carnegie Fellowship to study at the University of Vienna from 1932 to 1934.

Nurkse served in the Financial Section and Economic Intelligence Service of the League of Nations from 1934 to 1945. He was the financial analyst and was largely responsible for the annual Monetary Review. He was also involved with the publication of The Review of World Trade, World Economic Surveys, and the report of the Delegation on Economic Depressions entitled "The Transition from War to Peace Economy". Nurkse was influential for his criticism of floating exchange rates, which he argued were at fault for the economic crises of the interwar period.[3] According to Nurkse, floating exchange rates were subject to "cumulative and self-aggravating movements".[3]

In 1945, Nurkse accepted an appointment at Columbia University in New York City. He was a visiting lecturer at Columbia from 1945 to 1946, was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, from 1946 to 1947, and then returned to Columbia as an Associate Professor of Economics in 1947. In 1949, he was promoted to Full Professor of Economics, a position which he held almost until his death in 1959. Nurkse spent a sabbatical (1954–1955) at the Nuffield College of the University of Oxford, and in 1958–1959, another one studying economic development in the University of Geneva, and lecturing around the world.

In 1958, Ragnar Nurkse accepted a Professorship of Economics and the Director of International Finance Section position at Princeton University. However, before he could fully resume it, when Nurkse returned to Geneva in the spring of 1959, he died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 52.

For his 100th anniversary on 5 October 2007, the Estonian Postal Service commemorated Nurkse with an international letter stamp. A large stone monument with a plaque will also be unveiled across the house he was born in Käru. He was also honored earlier in 2007 by the inauguration of a Lecture Series by the Bank of Estonia and an international conference by Tallinn University of Technology's Technology Governance program. An economics professorship at Columbia is named in his honor, and is currently held by Donald R. Davis. In 2013, Tallinn University of Technology named one of its departments in honor of him: The Ragnar Nurkse Department of Innovation and Governance (RND).[4]


Nurkse is one of the founding fathers of Classical Development Economics. Together with Rosenstein-Rodan and Mandelbaum, he promoted a 'theory of the big push', emphasized the role of savings and capital formation in economic development, and argued that poor nations remained poor because of a 'vicious circle of poverty'. Among his major works are International Currency Experience: Lessons of the Interwar Period (1944), the foundation of the Bretton Woods Agreement, Conditions of International Monetary Equilibrium (1945), and Problems of Capital Formation in Underdeveloped Countries (1953).

Private life[edit]

Ragnar Nurkse married Harriet Berger of Englewood, New Jersey, in 1946, and they had two sons. One of them is the poet Dennis Nurkse.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kattel, Rainer; Jan Kregel; Erik Reinert (2009). Ragnar Nurkse (1907–2007). Anthem Press. p. 37. ISBN 978-1-84331-786-9. Nurkse's Estonian passport was last extended by the Estonian Consulate General in New York on April 22nd, 1946
  2. ^ Eichengreen, Barry (2018). "Ragnar Nurkse and the international financial architecture". Baltic Journal of Economics. 18 (2): 118–128. doi:10.1080/1406099X.2018.1540186. ISSN 1406-099X.
  3. ^ a b Eichengreen, Barry (2019). Globalizing Capital: A History of the International Monetary System (3rd ed.). Princeton University Press. pp. 46–48. ISBN 978-0-691-19390-8.
  4. ^ "About | TalTech". taltech.ee. Retrieved 2021-07-31.


  • Nurkse, Ragnar. Trade and Development. Rainer Kattel, Jan A. Kregel and Erik S. Reinert, eds. London – New York: Anthem, 2009. (ISBN 1843317877) Collection of all key works by Nurkse.
  • Nurkse, Ragnar (1944). International Currency Experience: Lessons of the Interwar Period. Geneva: League of Nations.
  • Kattel, Rainer, Jan A. Kregel and Erik S. Reinert, eds. Ragnar Nurkse (1907–2007): Classical Development Economics and its Relevance for Today. London – New York: Anthem, 2009. (ISBN 1843317869)
  • Kukk, Kalev (2004). (Re)discovering Ragnar Nurkse. Kroon & Economy No. 1, 2004.

External links[edit]