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Ragnar Nurkse ( , Käru, now Rapla County, Estoniamarker - 6 May 1959, near Lake Genevamarker, Switzerlandmarker) was an Estonianmarker-descended international economist and policy maker mainly in the fields of international finance and economic development.


Ragnar Nurkse was born in Käru village, now Raplamaa county of the then Governorate of Estonia of the Russian Empiremarker, son of an Estonian father who worked himself up from lumberjack to estate manager and an Estonian-Swedish mother. His parents emigrated from Estonia to Canadamarker in 1928.

Nurkse attended, after Russian-speaking primary school, the elite Domschule zu Reval, the most prestigious, German-language secondary school in Tallinnmarker, from where he graduated with highers honors in 1928. He continued his education at the Law School and the economics department of the University of Tartumarker from 1926 to 1928, and then in economics at the University of Edinburgh. He graduated from Edinburgh 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 Viennamarker 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".

In 1945, Nurkse accepted an appointment at Columbia University in New York Citymarker. He was a visiting lecturer at Columbia from 1945 to 1946, was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jerseymarker, 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 Collegemarker of the University of Oxfordmarker, and in 1958-1959, another one studying economic development in the University of Genevamarker, and lecturing around the world.

In 1958, Ragnar Nurkse accepted a Professorship of Economics and the Director of International Finance Section position at Princeton Universitymarker. However, before he could fully resume it, when Nurkse returned to Genevamarker in the spring of 1959, he died suddenly 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 Technologymarker's Technology Governance program. An economics professorship at Columbia is named in his honor.


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 Agreementmarker, Conditions of International Monetary Equilibrium (1945), and Problems of Capital Formation in Underdeveloped Countries (1953).

Private life

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


  • 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.
  • 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.

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