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Opinions of Friday, 15 November 2013

Columnist: Kwarteng, Francis

A Great Ghanaian Economist: Dr. Yaw Nyarko

-Part l

Food for thought: “Is there a separate economic theory for the poor, different from the rich? Is there a separate economics for Africans, different from that of Europeans and Americans?” Dr. Yaw Nyarko asks in an essay titled “Is There A Separate Economics For Africa?” Since we began the series on our great intellectuals, we have successfully profiled Princeton University’s Dr. Kwame Anthony Appiah, Stevens Institute of Technology’s Dr. Victor Lawrence, and Temple University’s Dr. Molefi Kete Asante, in that order. Presently, we are working on Dr. Ama Mazama, Afrocentricity International, and the Molefi Kete Asante for Afrocentric Studies.

But before we complete the latter project and submit it for publication, may we take the opportunity to profile one of America’s profoundest economists, Dr. Yaw Nyarko, who is also one of America’s most respected and leading authorities on African national economies? Who is Dr. Yaw Nyarko? What are some of his major contributions to economic theory, contemporary economic sociology, and economics as a field of study?

First, Dr. Nyarko received his B.A. Economics and Mathematics degree, in 1982, from the University of Ghana. Next, he proceeded to Cornel University, America, New York, where he obtained his M.A. and Ph.D. Economics degree in 1985 and 1986, respectively. Dr. Nyarko’s fields of specialization include human capital theory, game theory, growth theory, development economics, migration, brain gain, econometrics, probability theory, and brain drain.

Game theory, a mathematical science of strategic decision making, constituted one of Prof. John Nash’s research interests, an area of mathematics for which he received the Nobel Memorial Prize In Economics Science, in 1994. The Hollywood biopic “A Beautiful Mind” gave game theory another lift in the public consciousness. The 2002 PBS, “A Brilliant Madness,” shown in 2002, explored the mathematical mind of Nash, a paranoid schizophrenic, and game theory, among others. In fact, those of us who have had the opportunity to study game theory know how tough a subject it is. Dr. Nyarko is a brilliant economist and mathematician.

Further, game theory, otherwise called Multiperson Decision Theory, has varied applications in biology, mathematical economics, law, sports, political science, philosophy, military (arms race and war), psychology, computer science and logic, operations research (research allocation and networking). The game oware, played in the Caribbean and all over West Africa, and draughts (dame), are governed by the principles of game theory. The great mathematicians David Blackwell, John von Neumann, Glenn Loury, and Milton Friedman, to name but four, all worked in the field of game theory. We add Dr. Nyarko to the list. Presently, Dr. Nyarko, a theoretical economist, is a professor at New York University, the alma mater of Alan Greenspan, an ex-Chairman of the Federal Reserve, the Central Bank of America, serving from 1987 to 2006. Dr. Nyarko has applied economic theory to questions of political economy such as the relationship between knowledge and development; brain drain and brain gain; capital flight; relationship between knowledge and employment, technology and development, and research and productivity; poverty alleviation and corruption; the state of tourism in Africa; role of remittances, education, and migration in the sustenance of social safety nets, among many other transformative applications.

Then again, Dr. Nyarko, publisher of several scholarly articles, is the Founding Director of Africa House, Director of the Center for Technology and Economic Development (CTED), and co-Director of the Development Research Institute (DRI). However, the New York University-based Africa House is different from the Tennessee-based Africa House, the latter institution owned by the Ghanaian-American physician Dr. Nii Saban Quao and his Zimbabwean-American physician wife Dr. Arikana Chihombori. Drs. Quao and Chihombori founded Africa House and plan to use it in “revolutionalizing health care in African countries,” according to Daphne Taylor, author of “From Slave Plantation To ‘Africa House’.” Dr. Nyarko’s Africa House, on the other hand, is more of a multi-disciplinary research institution, somewhat like the Molefi Kete Asante Institute for Afrocentric Studies. The website of Africa House has the following useful information in relation to its mission: “NYU Africa House is an interdisciplinary institute devoted to the study of contemporary Africa, focusing on economic, political, and social issues on the continent and programs in the Arts. Part of Africa House’s core mission is to advance the understanding of the links between Africa and the rest of the world…”

The afore-cited quote also represents one of the central missions of the Molefi Kete Asante Institute for Afrocentric Studies. Similarly, we can make this claim in connection with Afrocentricity International. Indeed, NYU’s Africa House is as important to the growth and development of Africa as the Molefi Kete Asante Institute for Afrocentric Studies. The website continues: “NYU has a large number of professors and students doing research in the areas of economic development, economic growth and macroeconomics, microfinance, analysis of the effectiveness of foreign aid, politics and political economy, law and legal institutions. Africa House regularly convenes high level talks and seminars, and has in the past featured African Heads of State…”

Among other leaders from the African continent, Ghana’s Jerry John Rawlings and South Africa’s Jacob Zuma and Kgalema Mothlante have been hosted by Africa House where they delivered speeches on various topics relating to Africa. President John Mahama has also been hosted there, taking the opportunity to give a talk in relation to his book “My First Coup D’état.” Also, African House has also been involved in African art exhibitions. This has attracted people from all walks of life. More importantly, using our institutions to promote the work of African men and women as well as to educate Africans and non-Africans about African ingenuity is positive, an idea or activity in the right direction.

Besides the research work conducted at Africa House on Africa, the Center for Technology and Economic Development (CTED) is concerned with developing innovative and cutting edge technologies, which the research center hopes to use to address problems plaguing the so-called under-developed countries. Poverty alleviation is one of the Center’s primary goals. Together, Africa House, the Center for Technology and Economic Development, the Development Research Institute, constitute three powerful research engines driving the future growth and development of Africa. Again, their rigorous approach to intellectualizing Africa is not markedly different from the rigorous methodology adopted by the Molefi Kete Asante for Afrocentric Studies. Meanwhile, what are some of Dr. Nyarko’s signal contributions to knowledge economy and society? According to his Curriculum Vitae, he has served as a professor of technology and management at Polytechnic Institute, part of New York University, and as Vice Provost for Globalization and Multi-Cultural Affairs (with responsibilities for NYU’s International campuses and programs, and Provost liaison to the NYU schools of business, education and social sciences in Arts and Sciences).

Furthermore, he has also served as a Special Advisor to the President and Provost of New York University. Interestingly, Drs. Ama Mazama, Molefi Kete Asante, and Yaw Nyarko happen to be three of the humblest public intellectuals we have come to know personally. For instance, Dr. Nyarko’s business card does not even have Dr. or Ph.D. attached to his name. Drs. Mazama and Asante shy away from public idolization. These are very unlike some of our intellectuals who believe big titles are more indispensable than their duty to humanity and society. In addition, their social modesties, despite their brilliance, intellectual sincerity, social and political activism, prolificacy in the area of knowledge production, influence on society, are surprising yet worth emulating by the African youth. Dr. Victor Lawrence is another humble scholar. Finally, economics is an interesting subject, a discipline which we advise those of our readers unfamiliar with the terrain to consider reading about once a while. That said, let us share Dr. Nyarko’s nostalgia with you, something he recalls in “Is There A Separate Economics for Africa?”: “I just finished reading the voluminous book ‘The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,’ a classic by Gibbons written in 1776, great but extremely belittling of people of darker skin. I remember when I was at the University of Ghana doing my undergraduate work in Economics, I would browse through our Economics Library, which had mainly very old books, and which seemed to suggest that economics is different for Africans.”

Ironically, Dr. Nyarko is a great intellectual who does not only juggle with game theory but he’s also someone with a disarming sense of humor. He writes further: “Because of the heat of the sun, I recall reading that elasticities of supply of labor for Africans are lower than that of other people—wages simply do not get Africans off their hammocks. I recall reading one book (which is interesting as I did not see many Africans in hammocks—that’s in a different continent). It was suggested that Africans simply don’t respond to incentives the way others do.”

We shall return with Part ll…