The German-born Hans Singer was trained by Joseph Schumpeter and Arthur Spiethoff at Bonn, before gravitating to Cambridge, where he trained under John Maynard Keynes. It was under Keynes, that he produced his early surveys on unemployment (1937, 1940). In 1947, Singer moved onto the United Nations, with which he would be associated for much of his career (he had a simultanous appointment at the New School). His famous 1950 empirical paper assessing the “costs” of international trade for developing countries caused a furor in the profession – bringing him into the firing range of leading trade theorists such as Jacob Viner and GOTTFRIED HABERLER.
What has since become known as the Prebisch-Singer thesis (as Raul Prebisch independently argued it), became all the rage in both development theory and development practice as import substitution strategies were advocated and pursued by Third World countries. Hans Singer expanded upon his initial findings to develop Nurkse’s theory of “balanced growth”, where countries pursued a strategy of development in which all sectors of the economy grew proportionately without turning countries into one-industry economies. This necessitated tearing away from the core-periphery relationships implied trade and export-orientation development. Singer later muted his doubts by regarding industrialization as ultimately, a good thing and arguing that export orientation was could be beneficial if the terms of trade were not unfavorable. He has remained a lifelong advocate of foreign aid to developing countries – sharing none of the conventional qualms of the impact of direct food aid on local production.
Like Raul Prebisch and Gunnar Myrdal, with whom he is often associated, Singer was highly influential upon the Neo-Marxist development theorists such as Paul Baran and Andre Gunder Frank, without counting himself among them.
Major works of Hans W. Singer
– Men Without Work, 1937
– Unemployment and the Unemployed, 1940
– Gains and Losses from Trade and Investment in Under- Developed Countries, 1950
– Economic Development of the Brazilian Northeast, 1955
– International Development, Growth and Trade, 1964
– The Strategy of International Development, 1975
– Employment, Incomes and Equality: A strategy for increasing productive employment in Kenya, with R. Jolly, 1972
– Food Aid: Disincentive effects and their policy impliciations, with P.J. Isenman, 1975
– Zambia: Basic needs in an economy under pressure, with R. Jolly, 1981
– The Terms of Trade Controversy and the Evolution of Soft Financing: Early years and the UN, 1984
– Trade Policy and Growth of Developing Countries: Some new data, with P. Gray, 1988