Alexander Cairncross (economist)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Sir Alexander Kirkland "Alec" Cairncross KCMG FBA FRSE (11 February 1911 – 21 October 1998) was a British economist. He was the brother of the spy John Cairncross and father of journalist Frances Cairncross and public health engineer and epidemiologist Sandy Cairncross.


Cairncross was born in Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire, the seventh of eight children of Alexander Kirkland Cairncross, an ironmonger,[1] he was educated at Hamilton Academy, then won two scholarships to study economics at Glasgow University. From there, he attained a further research studentship to study at Trinity College, Cambridge, and in 1935 he was awarded the second PhD in economics bestowed by the university.

He became a lecturer in economics, under the influence of John Maynard Keynes (author of The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money and one of the leading lights of the 1944 Bretton Woods Conference, which saw the founding of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund). During World War II, most of his work was in the Ministry of Aircraft Production, where he rose to become Director of Programmes. In 1946 he served briefly on the staff of The Economist, and subsequently became adviser to the Board of Trade, he was seconded to be the economic adviser to the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation in Paris in 1949. and he left to become Professor of Applied Economics at his old university, Glasgow, in 1951.

Cairncross was instrumental in founding the Scottish Economic Society and was, in 1954, the first editor of its Scottish Journal of Political Economy.[2] Cairncross served as an economic adviser to the UK government (1961–64), Head of the Government Economic Service (1964–69) and Master of St Peter's College, Oxford (1969–78), Chancellor of the University of Glasgow (1972–96), and was an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. At Guildhall, Swansea he gave the Presidential Address as President of the British Association for 1970–1971.[3] Cairncross was made a Fellow of the British Academy in 1961.[4] Cairncross also received an Honorary Doctorate from Heriot-Watt University in 1969, and in 1992 was elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.[5]

In 1970 he was invited to deliver the MacMillan Memorial Lecture to the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland, he chose the subject "Economic Growth".[6]


The Scottish Economic Society instituted the Cairncross Prize in his memory.[2]

Family and death[edit]

Cairncross married Mary Frances Glynn in 1943; the couple had five children: two daughters and three sons,[4][7] he died in Oxford on 21 October 1998.[8]


  • Introduction to Economics (1944, 1st ed.; 1973, 5th ed.)
  • Home and Foreign Investment, 1870-1913 (1953)
  • Monetary Policy in a Mixed Economy (1960)
  • Economic Development and the Atlantic Provinces (1961)
  • Essays in Economic Management (1962)
  • Control over Long-Term Capital Movements (1973)
  • Britain's Economics Prospects Reconsidered, ed. (1971)
  • Years of Recovery: British Economic Policy 1945-51 (1985)
  • 'Goodbye, Great Britain': The 1976 IMF Crisis (1992) (with Kathleen Burk)[9]


  1. ^ Budd, Alan (23 October 1998). "Obituary". London: The Independent. Retrieved 15 May 2010.
  2. ^ a b Sir Alexander (Alec) Kirkland Cairncross, Gazetteer for Scotland
  3. ^ Dixon, Bernard (27 August 1971). "Science: Catching up (on the 1971 annual meeting of the British Association)". The Spectator.
  4. ^ a b Who's Who 1974, London : A. & C. Black, 1974, p. 497.
  5. ^ "Heriot-Watt University Edinburgh: Honorary Graduates". Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  6. ^ "Hugh Miller Macmillan". Macmillan Memorial Lectures. Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland. Archived from the original on 4 October 2018. Retrieved 29 January 2019.
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ Burk, Kathleen; Cairncross, Alec (1992). 'Goodbye, Great Britain': The 1976 IMF Crisis. Newhaven CT: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-05728-8.

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
Lord Boyd-Orr
Chancellor of the University of Glasgow
1972 to 1996
Succeeded by
Sir William Kerr Fraser