Obituary: Professor Brinley Thomas

Brinley Thomas, economist: born Pontrhydyfen 6 January 1906; OBE 1955, CBE 1973; Professor of Economics, University College Cardiff 1946-73; Chairman, Council for Wales 1968-71; married 1943 Cynthia Loram (one daughter); died 31 August 1994.

BRINLEY THOMAS was one of the world's leading authorities on the international migration of population and capital.

In his principal work, Migration and Economic Growth: a study of Great Britain and the Atlantic economy (1954) he challenged the conventional view among American economists that periodic inflows of immigrants and capital to the United States were caused unilaterally by swings in American aggregate demand. Using a technique closely related to the new economic history in the US, he demonstrated that long cycles in North America in the pre-1913 era were inverse to British cycles and that this relationship could be explained by demographic factors and the monetary implications of the international gold standard.

Born in the small Welsh mining village of Pontrhydyfen in 1906, Brinley Thomas was educated at Port Talbot County School and the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, where he obtained a First Class honours degree in Economics in 1926, and, two years later, an MA with distinction. From 1931 to 1939 he was a lecturer in the London School of Economics. The award of an Acland travelling scholarship enabled him to spend 18 months in Germany and Sweden between 1932 and 1934. With characteristic thoroughness he mastered the languages of both countries. His knowledge of Swedish enabled him to study at first hand the ideas of the Swedish school of economists, and it was Thomas who brought the ideas of Knut Wicksell and Gustav Cassel to the attention of the English speaking world, notably through his first book, Monetary Policy and Crises: a study of Swedish experience (1936).

His linguistic competence became an extremely valuable asset when war broke out in 1939, and in 1942 he was appointed Director of the Northern Section, Political Intelligence Department, at the Foreign Office, where he was involved in the transmission of coded messages to Allied agents in northern Europe.

At the end of the war, he returned briefly to the LSE before being appointed to the chair of Economics at University College Cardiff in 1946, where he remained until 1973. Not only did economics flourish in Cardiff under his leadership, but his department spawned a number of cognate departments including Law, Accountancy, Sociology and Politics. Following his 'retirement' in 1973, he was appointed visiting professor in a number of North American universities, and was still conducting postgraduate classes in the School of Demography at the University of Berkeley in his mid-eighties. He published his last book, The Industrial Revolution and the Atlantic Economy: selected essays (1993) at the age of 87.

Despite his love of travel and his long sojourns in North America, Brinley Thomas was above all else a Welshman. A fluent Welsh-speaker, he was a lifelong friend of the Welsh poet Waldo Williams, who composed an englyn in his honour. Throughout his life he maintained an active interest in Welsh affairs. In an article entitled 'Wales and the Atlantic Economy', published in 1959, he advanced the thesis that the industrial revolution had been a blessing to the Welsh language, a doctrine which departed abruptly from the orthodox view enshrined in Welsh history textbooks. In 1962, he edited a work on the Welsh economy, and from 1968 to 1971 he was Chairman of the Council for Wales, a high-profile committee set up by the Government to give advice on Welsh issues. He was also an active member of many UK and international committees. He was appointed OBE in 1955 and advanced CBE in 1973.

Brinley Thomas was a distinguished scholar whose work was the product of assiduous study, a fertile intuition and meticulous attention to detail. He had a marvellous gift for words which made his lectures immensely entertaining. He could become impatient and short-tempered when things were not going well, and revelled in the internal wranglings which have always been part of the life of senior common rooms. However, he bore few lasting grudges, and was a sensitive person who inspired and befriended successive generations of students over a span of 60 years.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Reach Volunteering: Chair and trustees sought for YMCA Bolton

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Bolton YMCA is now a...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific