Introduction

To find the practical formulas for this never-ending reconstruction of society is the supreme task of social science. The world catastrophe places tremendous difficulties in our way and may shake our confidence to the depths. Yet we have today in social science a greater trust in the improvability of man and society than we have ever had since the Enlightenment. —Gunnar Myrdal, An American Dilemma (1944) Gunnar Myrdal (1898–1987) was the twentieth century’s most influential social democratic internationalist.1 Throughout his long career—first as economist, then Continue reading → Continue reading →

The Myrdals’ Eugenicist Roots

Kris i Befolkningsfraågen Alva Myrdal and Gunnar Myrdal Stockholm: Albert Bonniers Förlag, 1934 It was the summer of 1934 when Gunnar Myrdal and his wife Alva published Kris i Befolkningsfraågen (The crisis in the population question, hereafter KiB), just as Gunnar, then thirty-five years old, was assuming a seat as a Social Democratic member of the Swedish Parliament.1 As a salvo from the enfant terrible of the Swedish economic establishment, the book was not merely analytical in intent but intended as a political strategy and Continue reading → Continue reading →

Will Myrdal’s America Show Up?

Varning för fredsoptimism Gunnar Myrdal Stockholm: Albert Bonniers Förlag, 1944 In the summer of 1945, Gunnar Myrdal’s “war work” seemed finally complete. Following the Allied victory in Europe, Europa Verlag Zürich printed Warnung vor Friedensoptimismus, a translation from the May 1944 Swedish original Varning för fredsoptimism (Warning against peace optimism).1 Myrdal himself would later use the phrase “my war work” to refer to his much more famous publication of the same year, An American Dilemma, his mammoth examination of America’s race relations framed “in terms Continue reading → Continue reading →

Gunnar Myrdal’s An American Dilemma (1944) as a Swedish Text: A Further Analysis

An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy Gunnar Myrdal New York: Harper & Brothers, 1944 In the fall of 1938, the economist and former member of the Swedish parliament Gunnar Myrdal traveled from Stockholm to New York City with his wife and research collaborator, Alva Reimer Myrdal, their three children, and two nannies.1 He was in the United States to begin work on the Carnegie Corporation of New York’s comprehensive study of black Americans.2 Far from being Myrdal’s own idea, the study was Continue reading → Continue reading →

Gunnar Myrdal and the Failed Promises of the Postwar International Economic Settlement

An International Economy: Problems and Prospects Gunnar Myrdal New York: Harper and Row, 1956 During his decade of employment as head of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (1947–57), Gunnar Myrdal wrote a series of works, of varying length, on the competing aims of economic internationalism and nationalism and the possibility of their reconciliation. The longest and most systematic was An International Economy: Problems and Prospects (1956), which offered a comprehensive overview of international economics in the non-Soviet world. Myrdal’s book was both a Continue reading → Continue reading →

Welfare World

Rich Lands and Poor: The Road to World Prosperity Gunnar Myrdal New York: Harper and Row, 1958 “Considering that he is Secretary-General of the Economic Commission for Europe and hence immersed in European problems,” one of the early reviewers wrote of the Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal’s An International Economy (1956), “one of the striking features . . . is that so much of it is directed toward problems of underdeveloped areas.”1 And just as he completed that work he was already on the road to Continue reading → Continue reading →

An International Dilemma: The Postwar Utopianism of Gunnar Myrdal’s Beyond the Welfare State

Beyond the Welfare State: Economic Planning and Its International Implications Gunnar Myrdal New Haven: Yale University Press, 1960 Gunnar Myrdal’s Beyond the Welfare State appeared in 1960, two years after he delivered the Storrs Lectures on “Economic Planning in the Western Countries” at Yale Law School. Myrdal had become widely known in the United States as the author of An American Dilemma (1944), which had been cited in the landmark 1954 desegregation case Brown v. Board of Education.1 Where An American Dilemma sought to show Continue reading → Continue reading →

Asian Drama Revisited

Asian Drama: An Inquiry into the Poverty of Nations, 3 vols. Gunnar Myrdal New York: Pantheon, 1968 In early 1969, the bureaucrats roaming the halls of New Delhi’s Central Secretariat building were consumed by a mounting unease. The turn of the year had seen a spate of violence in villages across India: in Thanjavur, in the nation’s south, a group of Dalit farm workers had been massacred by high-caste landlords, upset by the campaign for higher wages in the wake of bumper rice crops. In Continue reading → Continue reading →

From Welfare World to Global Poverty

The Challenge of World Poverty: A World Anti-Poverty Program in Outline Gunnar Myrdal New York: Pantheon Books, 1970 Eric Hobsbawm famously described the twentieth century, and lived it, as an Age of Extremes. Gunnar Myrdal, who lived that century no less than Hobsbawm, writing his first piece in 1919 and his last in 1984, offered a different perspective on the era. Where Hobsbawm painted a century of division and violence, wrought primarily between West and East, Myrdal’s was a century divided between the haves and Continue reading → Continue reading →

A Progressive Defense of Originalism

In nominating Judge Neil M. Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, President Trump fulfilled a campaign pledge to nominate a person who followed in the tradition of “Originalism” espoused by Justice Antonin J. Scalia. In making this pledge, Mr. Trump affirmed the conventional association between an Originalist approach to legal interpretation and a well defined set of conservative political and social views. To be an Originalist, Trump implied and his supporters assumed, was to be anti-regulation, anti-abortion, anti-welfare, anti-immigrant, anti-minority rights; it was also to be Continue reading →