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.

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

Recruitment Genius: Management Trainer

£30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Exciting career opportunity to join East...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Scientist / Research Assistant

£18000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious start-up company b...

Reach Volunteering: Chair of Trustees

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Do you love the Engl...

Day In a Page

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible