Essays on the Theory of the Plantation Economy,My first encounter with the West Indies was in the Christmas vacation 1960, when my Toronto professor B.S. Keirstead was at Mona at the invitation of Arthur Lewis. I was asked to help with the completion of a study for the (then) Government of the West Indies on Inter-Territorial Freight Rates and the Federal Shipping Service (ISER, Jamaica 1963). This assignment took me to Trinidad, and then back to Jamaica. I renewed acquaintance with student friends from England including Lloyd Braithwaite, Gladstone (Charlie) Mills, and many others. I also met a number of (then) young West Indian economists including Alister McIntyre, Lloyd Best and William Demas. I was attracted by their brilliance and enthusiasm and their intellectual efforts to break out of colonial modes of thinking and to construct new paradigms suited to the development of the Caribbean. I concluded that these were my kind of people and that I would use my position at McGill to assist in training young West Indian economists to contribute to such a project.
Shortly after the foundation of the Centre For Developing Area Studies at McGill in 1963, I invited William Demas to spend a year at McGill as the first visiting Research Fellow of the Center. The result was The Economics of Development in Small Countries with Special Reference to the Caribbean (1965).
Alister McIntyre, then teaching on the Mona Campus, encouraged a strem of student to come to McGill for graduate studies. Among them Edwin Carrington, Ainsworth Harewood and Adlith Brown. We formed a Montreal Group of the New World Movement and in 1967 I co-authored a book on Canada West Indies Economic Relations with Alister McIntyre with assistance of West Indian graduate students. .
As early as 1962, I began to collaborate with Lloyd Best and in 1966 we obtained a grant to enable Best to join me at McGill in the production of research on ‘Externally Propelled Growth and Industrialization in the Caribbean’, in which we developed the “Plantation Economy” paradigm. The work remained unpublished, although four volumes of mimeograph text were produced in 1969. At the insistence of Lloyd Best in 1968, the New World Quarterly published my essay on ‘Economic Dependence and Political Disintegration: The Case of Canada’. This relatively obscure Caribbean publication circulated widely among Canadian students, and I was encouraged to elaborate the text which was published as Silent Surrender: The Multinational Corporation in Canada in 1970.
On the occasion of a visit to the St. Augustine campus of UWI in 1964, Lloyd Best spoke with the greatest admiration of George Beckford, who had recently arrived on the St. Augustine campus as a lecturer in agricultural economics in the Faculty of Agriculture. Unfortunately, I was not able to meet him on that occasion, but met him later at Mona. Concerned that the Best-Levitt work remained unpublished, Beckford insisted that I prepare a summary published as “Characteristics of Plantation Economy” in Beckford (ed) Caribbean Economy (1975).
On the basis of my experience in multi-sectoral economic accounting, and my knowledge of Caribbean economies, I was employed as national income advisor on the construction of a system of National Accounts for Trinidad and Tobago (1969 to 1973). In 1974 I served as Professor at the Institute of International Relations at St. Augustine, UWI. In 1978 I accepted an invitation as Visiting Professor at the Department of Economics, Mona 1978 – 1980. From 1989-1995, I taught a course on Theories of Economic Development at the Consortium Graduate School of Social Sciences at Mona. In 1995, I was appointed first George Beckford Professor in Caribbean Political Economy, and produced, with Michael Witter, an edited volume entitled Critical Thought in Caribbean Political Economy: The Legacy of George Beckford, (1996). At this time I also collected and edited George Beckford’s work, published as The George Beckford Papers, (2000). In 2005 a collection of my Caribbean work was published as: Reclaiming Development: Independent Thought and Caribbean Community, by Ian Randle Publishers. The book was formally launched on July 5, 2006 at an event hosted by the Governor of the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago. On the following day a Roundtable was organized at the Institute of International Relations by the Critical Perspectives Group and Dennis Pantin, Chair of the Department of Economics on the St. Augustine Campus. The book was also launched at the Mona Campus under the auspices of the Center for Caribbean Thought and the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies in July 2006. Another book, Essays on the Theory of the Plantation Economy,was published in 2009. In 2008 I received an honorary doctorate from the University of the West Indies.
The Critical Tradition of Caribbean Political Economy: The Legacy of George Beckford
Edited by Kari Levitt and Michael Witter
Colleagues and former students of George Beckford continue critical essays on the plantation paradigm which still has relevance in the Caribbean. The volume not only celebrates the work of Beckford but also proposes an agenda of research in order to reintroduce some of the central themes of the critical tradition to which Beckford made seminal contributions on the socio-economic development of the region.
1996 • 314 pages • 6 x 9 •
Paperback • US $15.00
The George Beckford Papers
Selected and Introduced by Kari Levitt
“George Beckford’s work is characterized by a remarkable consistency of purpose and vision…This collection presents the unfolding of George Beckford’s work from agricultural economics to political economy, to the social economy of ‘man space’, to the cultural roots of Caribbean creativity and a vision of one independent, sovereign and self-reliant Caribbean nation…His purpose was to reveal the legacy of dispossession orginating in the slave plantation experience of African people in the New World; to ‘free the mind’ from the internalization of attitudes of inferiority and ‘Afro-Saxon’ mimicry. His vision was the affirmation of the culture of ‘overcoming’ rooted in the Caribbean ‘peasantry’ and the land.”
From the Introduction of The George Beckford Papers Professor Kari Levitt.
ISBN 976-8125-40-3 Paper
ISBN 976-8125-75-6 Cloth
540pp 6 x 9
US$ 27.00 (s) Paper
US$ 40.00 (s) Cloth
Reclaiming Development: Independent Thought and Caribbean Community
For over 20 years, the developing world has been adjusting to the agendas of the IMF and the World Bank. In the 1990s Structural Adjustment Programmes were repackaged and marketed as the coming of the golden age of globalisation, promising benefits to countries that adopt neo-liberal policies. Whether by conviction or apparent absence of viable alternatives, Caribbean governments have been quick to implement policies of Deregulation, Liberalisation and Privatisation. In this they have been supported by Caribbean intellectuals who have been equally quick in embracing globalisation and too ready to concede the end of national sovereignty.
In this collection of 15 papers prepared and presented in a variety of fora and spanning a period of 30 years, Kari Levitt argues that it is time to reclaim the right to development and the right of nations to engage in the international economy on their own terms. She advocates an international rules-based order which permits space for member countries to follow different and divergent paths to development according to their own philosophies, institutions, cultures and societal priorities. This collection represents a historic sweep of Caribbean thought and personalities over the past 30 years drawn against the background of the changes in the international political economy. Whether in her collaboration with Lloyd Best on the Plantation Economy model, her analyses of Debt and Adjustment, or her insistence on the right of sovereign nations to pursue their own development path, Kari Levitt remains consistent in her conviction that development, whether of individuals or nations, must be rooted in time and place and cannot be imposed by external proscription.
“There is a crying need for creative thinking and new initiatives to protect the gains of development from devastation by financial hurricanes fed by institutional investors who freely move funds in and out of countries at the tap of a keyboard with no responsibility for the impact of their operations on host countries.”
Reclaiming The Right To Development. Professor Kari Levitt.
2005 • 420 pages • 6 x 9
Essays on the Theory of the Plantation Economy
This publication serves as a testament to the foundations of an evolving Caribbean paradigm, and is an appropriate tribute to the memory of the late Doctor Best – and shall perpetuate the legacy of independent Caribbean thought which he embodied. It is fascinating to consider the state of mind of the authors some odd decades ago, when it was declared necessary to develop a body of inherently Caribbean-centric economic theory. This approach is what gives the Plantation Economy Theory its ideological significance, serving as a case in point for Caribbean empowerment and a source of inspiration for generations of intellectuals to come.
2009. 257 pages. 22.6 x 15 x 2.3 cm
Photos from the launch of Essays on the Theory of the Plantation Economy, co-authored by Kari Polanyi Levitt and Lloyd Best. The launch was hosted by the Office of the Campus Principal at the University of the West Indies on February 25th, 2010. For the full set of photos visit the University’s Flickr account. All photos by Aneel Karim, copyright University of the West Indies.
Kari and colleagues looking at the book.
Kari signing a book.
Kari speaking with the media.
Portrait photograph of Kari at the launch.
Professor Kari Levitt was born in Vienna in 1923, the only child of Karl Polanyi and Ilona Duczynska. In 1933 Karl emigrated to England followed by Kari in 1934 and Ilona in 1936. Kari attended Bedales School (1936-1940) and the London School of Economics from 1941-1943 at the wartime Cambridge campus and in London from 1945-1947 – interrupted by two years of national war service with the Research Department of the Amalgamated Engineering Union in South London. In 1946 she participated in the historic study of the Effects of Allied Strategic Bombing on the German War Economy directed by Nicholas Kaldor. With a small staff, in less time, the study came to the same conclusion as a similar larger, American study, directed by John Kenneth Galbraith, that aerial bombardment of industrial cities had the perverse effect of increasing German war production. She graduated from LSE with First Class Honours in 1947, specializing in statistics. She graduated from LSE with First Class Honours in 1947, specializing in statistics.
Kari met Canadian historian Joseph Levitt in wartime London, on leaves from active service in the Canadian armed forces in Italy and Normandy. She joined him in Canada in 1947. They were married in Toronto in 1950 where their sons Tom and Harry were born. In Toronto she engaged in labour research and edited a monthly 16-page tabloid for the Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers’ Union. In 1947 Karl Polanyi obtained an appointment as a visiting professor at Columbia University, but Ilona was unable to join him in New York on account of McCarthyist legislation. She established a home in Canada on the outskirts of Toronto near Pickering, Ontario where Karl visited on Christmas, Easter and summer vacations until his retirement from teaching in 1953. Kari, Joe and the children were frequent visitors as were Karl’s Columbia students and many others including Marshall McLuhan accompanied by his many children who enjoyed playing on the shores of the Rouge river.
In 1957 Kari returned to graduate studies in economics at the University of Toronto and obtained her MA in 1959. With a thesis hardly started she accepted an appointment in the Department of Economics of McGill University, Montreal in 1961. As a junior member of the Department she was required to teach an array of courses but her academic interest was in development economics and techniques of economic planning, including input-output and linear programming. From 1965 until the final completion of the work in 1975, she directed a major project of construction of input-output tables for the Atlantic Provinces of Canada, at Statistics Canada.
In the mid 1960s she was asked by the New Democratic Party of Canada to develop a position paper on the issue of foreign ownership. In this context she analysed the effects of foreign direct investment on the host country, illustrated by the case of Canada. An early version of this work was published in 1968 in the New World Quarterly, a Caribbean journal of political and cultural commentary, as ‘Economic Dependence and Political Disintegration: The Case of Canada’. (see Caribbean connection) Further work based on this manuscript resulted in the publication of Silent Surrender: The Multinational Corporation in Canada in 1970. The book was reprinted many times, and translated to French as La capitulation tranquile with an introduction by Jacques Parizeau, then professor at HEC. In 2001 it was reissued with a new introduction. The work was a minor classic of Canadian political economy and suggested that the American ownership of Canadian industry would result in national disintegration and the loss of sovereignty.
During these years Professor Levitt was in constant contact with Caribbean colleagues and from 1966-68 directed a project jointly with Lloyd Best on externally propelled growth and industrialization in the Caribbean at the Center for Developing Areas Studies at McGill. This joint work remained unpublished for many years until Kari was able to resume preparation of the manuscript with Lloyd Best during her stays in Trinidad from 2002, until his death in 2007, and was published as “Essays in Plantation Economy” in 2009. In the early 1970s, Kari took several years of part-time leave from McGill to work for the government of Trinidad and Tobago on a system of national economic accounts as a database for the country’s next economic plan and accepted appointments at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad and Jamaica as visiting professor. (see Caribbean connection)
Concerned that development economics as a distinct branch of study was threatened with marginalization by a counter revolution in economics in the early 1980s, Professor Levitt initiated a project on ‘The State of Development Studies in Canada’ with the collaboration of Ayse Bugra Trak. Interviews were conducted at universities across Canada and a comprehensive review of development literature with special emphasis on development economics was prepared. In an effort to institutionalise development studies Professor Levitt was instrumental in the foundation of the Canadian Association for the Study of International Development. In 1982 she produced Canadian Policy in the Caribbean, a 300-page report to the Sub-Committee of the Standing Committee on External Affairs and National Defense of the Canadian House of Commons.
In the 1980s Kari was also occupied with the responsibility of the literary legacy of Karl Polanyi which passed to her on the death of her mother, Ilona, in 1978. When Kari returned from Jamaica in 1980, she sought assistance to sort and catalogue a large body of correspondence, lectures and manuscripts and initiated negotiations with authorities in Hungary for the re-internment of the earthly remains of Karl and Ilona Polanyi in Budapest. This event formed part of the program of the centennial conference celebrating the life and work of Karl Polanyi in 1986. The proceedings were published as The Life and Work of Karl Polanyi in 1990. In 1987 Concordia University accepted a proposal by Dr. Marguerite Mendell to establish the Karl Polanyi Institute of Political Economy and Professor Levitt made the Polanyi archive available. The Second International Karl Polanyi Conference was held at Concordia in 1988. The institute has organized bi-annual international Karl Polanyi conferences, in locations as diverse as Montreal, Mexico City, Budapest and Istanbul among others. The Vienna conference of 1994 resulted in the publication of the edited volume Karl Polanyi in Vienna (1999). In November 2004 the Hungarian Academy of Sciences made Professor Levitt an honorary member. On that occasion she delivered an address on ‘Development and Regionalism: Karl Polanyi’s Ideas and the Contemporary World System’ (see Articles)
In the last years of teaching at McGill, now with the rank of full professor, Kari was able to specialize exclusively in the area of the economics of development with special reference to Latin American and Caribbean economic history and development. She retired from McGill in 1992 as Emerita Professor but continued to teach at the Consortium Graduate School of Social Sciences at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica until 1995 and as George Beckford professor in the Department of Economics until 1997. Her collection of the work of George Beckford was published in 2000, and her work on Caribbean political economy was published as Reclaiming Development: Independent Thought and Caribbean Community in 2005. Her latest book, “From the Great Transformation to the Great Financialization: on Karl Polanyi and other essays” was published in 2013. This last book was translated into Spanish in 2017 by a team of colleagues from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM).
In recent years Kari returned to an incomplete manuscript on theories of economic development written in the 1990s. This project, entitled “Economics and the Development Discourse in Historical Perspective” is funded by the IDRC and the Canadian Social Science and Humanities Research Council.
In 2008 Kari was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the University of the West Indies, as well as the John Kenneth Galbraith Prize from the Progressive Economics Forum, jointly with Mel Watkins.
Reclaiming Democracy: The Social Justice in the Political Economy of Gregory Baum and Kari Levitt. Ed. Marguerite Mendell. McGill-Queens Press, Montreal, 2005.
This book was created thanks to the Karl Polanyi Institute and edited by the Director of the Institute, Margie Mendell on the 75th birthday of Kari Levitt and Gregory Buam.
Kari Polanyi Levitt was awarded the Reconocimiento Ifigenia Martínez at the Mexican consulate in Montreal, on August 15, 2017. Created in 2012 by UNAM, this prestigious award celebrates renowned critical economists in the field of Financial Economy and Development.
Among those who contributed to the section on Kari’s life and work were Mel Watkins, Samir Amin, Lloyd Best, Norman Girvan and Michael Witter.
More information is also available in three recent interviews with Kari:
With Michele Rioux, in Interventions Economiques (see translation in English here)
With David Simon, in Contemporary Social Science.
See short curriculum vitae here.