Brendan Brundage, 2023-24 HOPE Center Visiting Scholar

photograph of Brendan Brundage, 2023-24 HOPE Center visiting scholar
Brendan Brundage

In the two or three decades after World War II, economists were invited by the governments of several developing countries to help them set up new economies and related institutions such as central banks.

One of those economists was the Canadian-born and Chicago-trained macroeconomist Arthur I. Bloomfield, who in the early 1960s went to the Caribbean to advise the West Indian Federation, a nascent political organization of British colonies, including Jamaica and Trinidad, in the process of gaining independence as a united federation with a single economy and currency.

“But the federation didn’t survive,” says Brendan Brundage, a 2023–24 HOPE Center Visiting Scholar who is studying and writing about that period of Caribbean history.

As Brendan explains, Jamaica and Trinidad proved simply too unwilling to give up control over their own currency and development plans. And they could never agree about how much centralized authority the federation should have. Much to Bloomfield’s disappointment, the several countries all went their own way.

A PhD student in economics at Colorado State University, Brendan first approached his subject through Bloomfield, and he had planned on writing primarily about the economist, who in the 1940s and 1950s had worked for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York before beginning his missions to developing countries.

“The story, though, quickly became much bigger than Bloomfield. At that time, in the early 1960s, there was all this conflict in the Caribbean as the Caribbean countries became independent from their former colonizers.”

It’s easy, Brendan says, to think of Caribbean countries as all alike. “But that’s a mistake. Not only was the Caribbean different from other developing areas; but the countries in the Caribbean were in tension with each other.”

Born and raised in south Florida, Brendan has a personal connection to the Caribbean through his mother, who was born in Haiti.

As Brendan points out, Bloomfield, who died in 1998, became involved in the Caribbean through Arthur Lewis, the St. Lucian economist who in 1979 won a Nobel Prize for his work in economic development.

“Lewis was even more disappointed than Bloomfield when the federation fell through,” Brendan says.

Bloomfield saw that, federation or no federation, Jamaica and the other small island nations would face the same problems. “Unless their economies became more integrated, they would struggle individually.”

While at Duke, Brendan, who played baseball in college, has been reading Bloomfield’s papers, which are in the Rubenstein Library.

“I expected Bloomfield to be firmer in his stances—like the previous generation of so-called money doctors had been,” says Brendan. “But Bloomfield was more about helping the leaders of a country realize their own vision rather than imposing the developed world’s ideas about how economies should be run.”

In short, says Brendan, Bloomfield was careful. “He didn’t want to tell countries what to do.”

Brendan’s PhD advisor at Colorado State is Guy Numa, who is on HOPE’s advisory board. The PhD program at Colorado State requires students to take a class on the history of economic thought—“probably the only PhD program in the States that still does that,” Brendan says.

Brendan will return to Colorado in April.