Bertil Ohlin

Swedish economist and politician (1899-1979)

Bertil Gotthard Ohlin (23 April 1899 – 3 August 1979) was a Swedish economist and politician, who together with Eli Heckscher developed one of the standard mathematical model of international free trade, the Heckscher–Ohlin model. He was jointly awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1977 together with the British economist James Meade "for their pathbreaking contribution to the theory of international trade and international capital movements".

Bertil Ohlin, late 1950s


  • I am presently at work on a dissertation dealing with the theory of international trade and foreign exchange rates. In dealing with this, studies of the intervention of recent years in the area of trade and exchange rates of different countries is of the greatest importance. I therefore hope to be able to begin a six month study tour to Switzerland, France and England at the end of May this year. After having collected the necessary material I intend — if the economic side can be arranged — during a stay of 6–12 months in England (probably Cambridge) or possibly the United States (in that case probably Harvard University) — to work out the above mentioned dissertation as a specimen for the doctoral degree in philosophy and pursue studies in general. I have not yet any detailed study plan. That should appropriately be set up after the arrival.
    • Ohlin’s application to the Royal Academy of Sciences, January 30, 1922; Translation by Rolf G. H. Henriksson in "Eureka unter den Linden" in: Bertil Ohlin: A Centennial Celebration, 1899-1999, p. 129.
  • The origin of this research was an attempt to extend Cassel’s system of equations of price determination in one market to that of several trading countries. Although the point of departure is totally different, the results of that attempt (presented in chapter III) exhibit important similarities to Heckscher’s treatment in ‘‘The Effect of Foreign Trade on the Distribution of Income,’’ published one year earlier in Ekonomisk Tidskrift, 1920. There is no doubt that the author was unconsciously influenced by Heckscher’s paper both at this and at later stages of the work. The influence of this pathbreaking paper, both conscious and unconscious, has surely been particularly decisive in the development of the material in chapters I–III.
    • Ohlin (1924), quoted (and translated) in: Eli Filip Heckscher, ‎Bertil Gotthard Ohlin, ‎Henry Flam Heckscher-Ohlin trade theory, (1991), p. 76.
  • To me it is a riddle that Knut Wicksell, who for most of his life was a fanatical representative of extreme opinions in the social debate, could present a completely different personality in the scholarly context. During the period when I knew him he was the diffident seeker after scientific truth.
    • Bertil Ohlin (1972, 558), as cited in: Carlson, Benny, and Lars Jonung. "Knut Wicksell, Gustav Cassel, Eli Heckscher, Bertil Ohlin and Gunnar Myrdal on the role of the economist in public debate." Econ Journal Watch 3.3 (2006): 511-550.
Tage Erlander & Bertil Ohlin, 1954.
  • No authors propounded the ideas of economic liberalism in Sweden during the 1920s as vigorously as did Cassel and Heckscher, and in addition they certainly helped in no mean degree to give actual policy a liberal stamp during that decade.
    • Bertil Ohlin (1977, p. 15), as cited in: Benny Carlson. The state as a monster: Gustav Cassel and Eli Heckscher on the role and growth of the state. University Press of America, 1994. p. 3.
  • Nutrition seems to mock the achievements of economic development,
    • Ohlin (1977, p. 201); as cited in: Larry Lev (1981) The effect of cash cropping on food consumption adequacy among the Meru of northern Tanzania. p. 1.
  • I started [in 1921] to write on the foundations of an approach to international trade theory that was to some extent new and for which I received the inspiration during a stroll on [the popular promenade] Unter den Linden in Berlin in 1920.
  • The economic history of the last half century offers two cases of serious international depressions in countries with an essential orientation towards a market economy: In the first half of the 1930ies and in the middle of the 1970ies. With some simplification one can say that in the former case recovery started after a few years without the aid of much conscious expansionist policy.

Interregional and international trade. (1933)


Ohlin, Bertil Gotthard. Interregional and international trade. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, (1933).

  • The productive factors enter into the production of different commodities in very different proportions.
    • p. 30.
  • Curiously enough, John Stuart Mill, although he must have been familiar with Longfield's writings, seems never to have touched upon this line of reasoning.
    • p. 32; As cited in: Andrea Maneschi (1998) Comparative Advantage in International Trade: A Historical Perspective p. 124.
  • International trade theory has, in my opinion, given far too much attention to the effects of certain variations, for example, in duties, on the national incomes, and too little to the effects on individual incomes. In many cases, changes in the sums count for very little, while changes in the individual incomes are distinctly relevant.
    • p. 306 ; As cited in: Irwin, Douglas A. "Ohlin Versus Stolper-Samuelson." No. w7641. National bureau of economic research, 2000. p. 3.
  • It seems beyond doubt that the tariff policy pursued during the last half century has not raised the standard of living of the labouring classes. It is doubtful if agricultural duties increase the relative scarcity of manual labour compared with other factors, and they certainly raise the cost of living for the working classes. It is, however, true that manufacturing duties tend to depress the rent of farm land... It is on the whole not at all unlikely that the sum total of rent is reduced in countries with high manufacturing duties... In most countries, however, the sum of rents is small compared with the sum of wages to manual workers. Even a substantial reduction of the former brings only a slight increase in the latter.
    • p. 307; As cited in: Irwin, Douglas A. "Ohlin Versus Stolper-Samuelson." No. w7641. National bureau of economic research, 2000. p. 4.

Quotes about Bertil Ohlin

  • It is a special privilege for me on this occasion to have my name associated with that of Professor Bertil Ohlin. By the younger generation of economists we are no doubt both regarded as what in my country are now known as 'senior citizens'; but I am just that much younger than Professor Ohlin to have regarded him as one of the already established figures when I was first trying to understand international economics. His great work on International and Interregional Trade opened up new insights into the complex of relationships between factor supplies, costs of movement of products and factors, price relationships, and the actual international trade in products, migration of persons, and flows of capital. Of the two volumes which I later wrote on International Economic Policy - namely, The Balance of Payments and Trade and Welfare - it is in the latter that the influence of this work by Professor Ohlin is most clearly marked.
    But Professor Ohlin also made an important contribution to what now might be called the macro-economic aspects of a country's balance of payments. In 1929 in the Economic Journal he engaged in a famous controversy with Keynes on the problem of transferring payments from one country to another across the foreign exchanges. In this he laid stress upon the income-expenditure effects of the reduced spending power in the paying country and of the increased spending power in the recipient country. In doing so he made use of the usual distinction between a country's imports and exports; but in addition he emphasised the importance of the less usual distinction between a country's domestic non-tradeable goods and services and its tradeable, exportable and importable, goods. I made some use of this latter distinction in my Balance of Payments; but looking back I regret that I did not let it play a much more central role in that book
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