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Professor Walter Newlyn


By John Loxley

Walter Newlyn (1915-2002)

Walter Newlyn, who has died aged 87, was an Africanist and professor of development economics at Leeds University from 1967 to 1978. An outstanding scholar, he was well known for his work on monetary theory and economic development. His Theory of Money (1961), still found on economics reading lists throughout the world, avoided approaches to money which required, as he put it “assumptions which are incapable of reconciliation with reality”.

To bring that reality home to students, at Leeds in 1949 Newlyn and the New Zealander Bill Philips built the prototype of the Philips hydraulic machine, a model of the circular flow of money later immortalised in an Emmet cartoon in Punch. It also formed the basis of flow charts found in his books. Walter chuckled when I reminded him of the time that the model had proved even more realistic than intended,  and had begun to spring leaks at critical junctures.

From 1965 to 1967 Walter was director of economic research at the east African institute of social research in Kampala, Uganda, where he built up a solid, policy-oriented research programme. Back in Leeds he set up the African studies centre.

The younger of two sons, he was born in Wimbledon, southwest London. He never knew his father, who was killed on the Somme when Walter was just a year old. Educated privately in Richmond, Surrey, he left at 16 – without any qualifications – and began work as an office boy for a London-based grain-shipping firm. By the end of the 1930s, having joined the Territorial Army, he was in France as a signalman. In June 1940, he was evacuated from Dunkirk in the same boat as his brother, and, back in England, was commissioned and posted to India.

In 1945 he persuaded the London School of Economics to admit him to read economics, and, by 1948, had been appointed as an assistant lecturer at Leeds. Although primarily based there until retirement, he also worked extensively in Africa. A research project in 1950 first took him to the continent, to investigate the colonial banking system. Between 1953 and 1954, he and his wife Doreen, whom he married in 1952, ranged across Nigeria, studying mechanisation.

While living in a hut 60 miles from Ibadan, they proofed Walter’s Money and Banking (1954), which he co-wrote with David Rowan. This book emphasised the dependent nature of African economics, years before the dependency school of development theory became popular. While arguing for independent central banks and institutional reform, it stressed that these would do little to ease economic dependence, for which they were no monetary or financial panacea.

Between 1956 and 1959, Walter acted as an economic advisor to the colonial Ugandan government, before returning to Leeds until 1965, when he joined the east African institute. In the 1960s, he also co-founded the development studies association, published a wide variety of papers on development issues, such as foreign aid and debt, and sat on the UN expert committee on payment agreements in Africa.

One of Walter’s major concerns was the extent to which new central banks could prudently advance credit to their governments for development spending. In Money In An African Context (1967) and Finance and Development (1968) he developed an approach to measuring this. More importantly, in the latter he argued that the technicalities of financing development raised larger issues of wealth ownership and its consequences for growth and equity.

He expressed doubts about the feasibility of a watered down welfare state in poor countries with a small capitalist economy, but believed it possible for the major means of production to be collectively owned, while giving a limited, but guaranteed, role for private capital.

The Newlyn’s African travels were so extensive that a point was reached when their children, returning from a long ride, would complain of having seen only “Mmba” – miles and miles of bloody Africa. The couple also shared a love of theatre, and a commitment that it should be accessible to all.

In the late 1950s, they set up the Uganda Pilgrim Players, the country’s first multi-racial theatre group. – for its first production, Doreen translated the First Shepherd’s Play from Middle English, while Walter painted the scenery. Later, he donated the money from Money In An African Context to the national theatre of Uganda.

After his retirement from Leeds, Walter and Doreen spent two years in Malaysia on a project for the institute of development studies at Sussex University. They were instrumental in helping to create the Leeds Playhouse (now the West Yorkshire Playhouse), and Walter wrote a seminal paper on the economics of the theatre.

Walter was noted for his kindness and generosity towards students – and was much loved by them. He and Doreen, with their friends Arnold and Margot Kettle, did much to encourage working-class students, like myself, to pursue an academic career. Walter’s career was informed throughout by a concern for greater equality of opportunity in all spheres of life.

He always relied heavily on Doreen. Even as he lay dying, he sought to persuade her to take down notes on his ideas of how a Tobin tax might be designed to aid poor countries. He is also survived by his daughters Lucy, Gill and Kate, his eldest daughter, Sally, having predeceased him.

Walter Tessier Newlyn, economist, born July 26 1915, died October 4 2002. 

Note by Martin Banham: John Loxley refers to Walter Newlyn’s initiative in setting up the African Studies Unit (now LUCAS – the Leeds University Centre for African Studies) in 1964. With Margot Kettle as Administrator the ASU became a focus for Africanists from all disciplines within the University, offering African students a dedicated reading room and a focus, creating a stimulating seminar programme, and launching the ASU Newsletter with a small but international circulation. This has now grown into the LUCAS Bulletin in which this obituary appears. The 1960s were generous days in university life, allowing students and staff the luxury to share each other’s enthusiasms and interests. Such an interchange, intellectual and social, based on a love and enthusiasm for Africa, was important to Walter. By his vision the university was established on the international scene as a centre for research and teaching in African studies and a place where African students and visiting academics could be sure of support, friendship, and a strong professional scholarly concern for the continent’s concerns and opportunities.

[Published in Leeds African Studies Bulletin 65 (March 2003), pp. 9-11]

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