North, Douglass C. 1920- (Douglass Cecil North)

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North, Douglass C. 1920- (Douglass Cecil North)

PERSONAL:

Born 1920, in Cambridge, MA; married first wife (a politician), 1944 (marriage ended); married Elisabeth Chase, 1972; children: (first marriage) Douglass, Christopher, Malcolm. Education: University of California at Berkeley, B.A., Ph.D.

ADDRESSES:

Office—Washington University in St. Louis, Department of Economics, Campus Box 1208, St. Louis, MO 63130-4899. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Economist, educator, and author. Maritime Service Officers' School, Alameda, CA, taught celonavigation for a year; University of Washington, Seattle, former faculty member; Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO, Spencer T. Olin Professor in Arts and Sciences, Center in Political Economy fellow, 1983—. Former visiting chair, Cambridge University and Rice University; board member, National Bureau of Economic Research, 1961-1986; senior fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA. Military service: Merchant Marine; served as a navigator for three years during World War II.

MEMBER:

American Academy of Arts and Sciences, British Academy of Arts and Sciences (fellow), Economic History Association, Western Economic Association.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Social Science Research Council Fellowship; Ford Faculty Fellowship, 1966-67; Nobel Prize in Economics (corecipient), 1993.

WRITINGS:

The Economic Growth of the United States, 1790-1860, Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1961.

Decisions That Faced the New Nation, 1783-1820, Foresman (Chicago, IL), 1964.

Growth and Welfare in the American Past: A New Economic History, Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1966, 3rd edition, 1983.

(Editor, with Robert Paul Thomas) The Growth of the American Economy to 1860, Harper & Row (New York, NY)/University of South Carolina Press (Columbia, SC), 1968.

(With Roger LeRoy Miller) The Economics of Public Issues, Harper & Row (New York, NY), 1971, 15th edition, 2008.

(With Lance Edwin Davis and Calla Smorodin) Institutional Change in American Economic Growth, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1971.

(With Roger LeRoy Miller) Abortion, Baseball, & Weed: Economic Issues of Our Time, Harper & Row (New York, NY), 1973.

(With Robert Paul Thomas) The Rise of the Western World: A New Economic History, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1973.

Structure and Change in Economic History, Norton (New York, NY), 1981.

Growth and Welfare in the American Past: A New Economic History, Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1983.

Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1990.

Transaction Costs, Institutions, and Economic Performance, ICS Press (San Francisco, CA), 1992.

(Editor, with Lee J. Alston and Thrainn Eggertsson) Empirical Studies in Institutional Change, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1996.

The Contribution of the New Institutional Economics to an Understanding of the Transition Problem, UNU World Institute for Development Economics Research (Helsinki, Finland), 1997.

The Process of Economic Change, UNU World Institute for Development Economics Research (Helsinki, Finland), 1997.

Understanding the Process of Economic Change, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2005.

Political Institutions and Financial Development, Stanford University Press (Stanford, CA), 2008.

SIDELIGHTS:

Nobel Prize-winning economist Douglass C. North was born in 1920, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His father worked for Metropolitan Life Insurance, and his job resulted in the family moving several times, first to Connecticut, and then to Canada, when he was promoted to the head of the Canadian office in Ottawa. North began his schooling in Canada at the local elementary school, but attended private school after that. He also attended the Lycée Jacquard in Lausanne, Switzerland, for a year when the family lived in Europe. In 1933, they returned to the United States, and North continued in private schools in New York before ultimately graduating high school from the Choate School in Wallingford, Connecticut. Despite his varied education, North himself admits that he does not come from an overly intellectual family, neither of his parents having completed high school; his primary interest during school was photography, a skill for which he won a number of prizes. However, he was admitted into Harvard University after completing his secondary education, though he ultimately chose to attend the University of California at Berkeley because his father had recently been transferred yet again, this time to the San Francisco office. At Berkeley, North studied politics, economics, and philosophy with an eye toward law school after graduation. However, the start of World War II put those plans on hold. Because of pacifist leanings he had developed in college, he enlisted in the Merchant Marine in an attempt to avoid actually having to kill anyone. For three years, he worked as a navigator in the Pacific, participating in runs from San Francisco down to Australia, as well as near the Solomon Islands and New Guinea. He credits the experience with providing him with a great deal of time to read and broaden his interests.

After returning to civilian life, North renewed his interest in photography, and at that point considered becoming a photographer rather than an economist, which was his other interest at the time. He spent the summer of 1941 with Dorothea Lange as part of the Farm Security Administration works project. While Lange was all in favor of his interest in photography, she was married to an economist at the University of California, Paul Taylor, and Taylor's influence proved to be more convincing. So North continued his education at UC Berkeley, earning his doctorate, and set out to understand economics in such a way that he would be able to improve society. He believed it was important to understand the influences on the economy on a historical basis if one was to influence them going forward. Although he learned a great deal of economic history in graduate school, it was later, while working at the University of Washington in Seattle, that he felt he gained a solid grasp of the theory behind the subject. There he met economic theorist Don Gordon, and the two had a standing chess game during which Gordon passed along much of his knowledge to North. Over the course of his career, North used that knowledge as a foundation for much of his own work in economics, and also as a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, where he in turn passed the theory on to his own students.

In addition to his academic career, North has served on a number of boards for organizations, including the National Bureau of Economic Research, and worked as a fellow for the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1993, along with Robert Fogel, for their work researching the history of economics and how various forces work on the change and development of economies. He has also earned a Social Science Research Council Fellowship, and a Ford Faculty Fellowship in Geneva, Switzerland. He is the author of numerous books on economics, the economies of the world, and the ways in which economies grow and change under different influences.

Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance takes a look at the effects of developments in technology on the way an economy performs. North uses this framework as a means of attempting to show readers how economic process may be aided or hindered by various conditions within societal institutions. He proposes that the more traditional theoretical approaches fail to explain why some economies perform well while others with apparently similar parameters do not, and questions certain givens in the classic theoretical approach that appear to be illogical. Over the course of the book, he analyzes neoclassical economic theory to determine its limits, then addresses the necessity of institutions within the economic structure as stabilizers. He then determines what qualities of the institutions must be present in order for the institution to survive economic change. From there, North goes on to analyze the phases of change and to illustrate why neoclassical economic theory does not allow for these phases to occur without weakening of the underlying structure. Adrian Schout, in a review of the work for the Economic Journal, felt that it "makes many valuable points and thought-provoking statements." He noted several remaining questions, however, including that "the establishment of new paths has to be explained. Japan, for instance, has a good record of setting up new industries…. Path dependency cannot easily explain this."

In Understanding the Process of Economic Change, published in 2005, North challenges readers to take a new approach to economics and to alter the way they look at economic principles in general. His idea is to build a theory and a practical manner of application that does not oversimplify the various economic factors at hand or make ridiculous assumptions that would not hold up in practice. He addresses the social sciences as a whole from a broad perspective as they impact economic theory, and addresses a series of issues that include the roles of uncertainty and unpre- dictability in economic principle, cognitive science's interaction with practical application of economic theory, and how people think of the roles of economies and politics when linked. He then attempts to explain to readers how this combination of ideas might lead to a different approach to understanding how economic changes come about. According to North, most of society's institutions are geared toward trying to minimize or eliminate uncertainty in life, despite the impossibility of achieving that goal. However, because of this very human aspiration, any workable economic theory must take those other social structures, such as psychology, anthropology, and history, into account. Stefan Voigt, in a contribution for the Independent Review, expressed a certain disappointment with the book overall, commenting that "at the outset of my reading of this book, I hoped to find further substantial progress in the new institutional economics. While reading it, however, I realized that it lacked the rigor of the same author's previous books in this field of research. Instead of offering intriguing new arguments, North repeats questions without offering any real answers." Will Wilkinson, in a review of the book for the Cato Journal, remarked that "North has significantly advanced his conception of the nature of institutions by integrating ideas from the philosophy of mind and the cognitive sciences." He concluded, however, that the volume "is more a clarion call, announcing the opening of a new frontier, than the concluding drumbeats of a research program fulfilled."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

American Economic Review, September, 1961, Harry Sheffer, review of The Economic Growth of the United States, 1790-1860, pp. 708-710.

American Historical Review, April 1, 1983, review of Structure and Change in Economic History, p. 360.

American Political Science Review, December 1, 1991, review of Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance, p. 1477; September 1, 1997, review of Empirical Studies in Institutional Change, p. 711.

Business History Review, June 22, 1982, review of Structure and Change in Economic History, p. 299; December 22, 1993, "A ‘New’ Business History? A Commentary on the 1993 Nobel Prize in Economics," p. 623; December 22, 2005, review of Understanding the Process of Economic Change, p. 859; March 22, 2006, "Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance," p. 151.

Cato Journal, January 1, 2005, review of Understanding the Process of Economic Change, p. 172.

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, June 1, 2005, review of Understanding the Process of Economic Change, p. 1870.

Christian Science Monitor, April 9, 1990, review of The Economics of Public Issues, 7th edition, p. 13.

Economic Development & Cultural Change, January 1, 1993, review of Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance, p. 419.

Economic Journal, November, 1991, Adrian Schout, review of Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance, pp. 1587-1589.

Economist, October 16, 1993, "History by Numbers," p. 81.

Foreign Affairs, May 1, 2005, review of Understanding the Process of Economic Change.

Independent Review, September 22, 2006, Stefan Voigt, review of Understanding the Process of Economic Change, p. 310.

International Organization, September 22, 1983, Ronald Rogowski, review of Structure and Change in Economic History, p. 721.

Journal of American History, March 1, 1992, review of Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance, p. 1405.

Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, June 1, 1992, review of Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance, p. 142.

Journal of Economic History, September 1, 1990, "Politics, Popery, and Property: A Comment on North and Weingast," p. 693; December 1, 1991, "Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance," p. 999; December 1, 1997, "Empirical Studies in Institutional Change," p. 986; June 1, 2005, review of Understanding the Process of Economic Change, p. 602.

Journal of Economic Issues, June 1, 1995, "Douglass C. North's New Institutionalism," p. 453; June 1, 1995, "Institutions and the Significance of Relative Prices," p. 459; June 1, 1995, "On Integrating New and Old Institutionalism: Douglass North Building Bridges," p. 467; December 1, 2002, "Alternative Visions of Change in Douglass North's New Institutionalism," p. 1025; December 1, 2004, "An Evaluation of the Role of the State and Property Rights in Douglass North's Analysis," p. 1003.

Journal of Economic Literature, September 1, 1988, review of The Economics of Public Issues, 7th edition, p. 1238; September 1, 1991, review of Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance, p. 1236; March 1, 1992, review of Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance, p. 221; June 1, 2005, review of Understanding the Process of Economic Change, p. 591.

Journal of Economic Perspectives, March 22, 1995, "Cliometrics and the Nobel," p. 191.

Journal of Policy Analysis & Management, January 1, 1992, review of Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance, p. 156.

Journal of Political Economy, February 1, 1983, review of Structure and Change in Economic History, p. 188.

Kyklos, December 22, 1992, review of Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance, p. 582.

Library Journal, January 1, 1982, review of Structure and Change in Economic History, p. 90.

Los Angeles Business Journal, October 8, 2001, "A Hoover Institution View of the Nobel Prize," p. 9.

Los Angeles Times, October 13, 1993, "2 Americans Share Nobel Honors; Pair Honored for Economic History Work," p. 1.

Manchester School of Economic and Social Studies, September 1, 1991, review of Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance, p. 344.

New York Times, October 13, 1993, "A Talent for Rewriting History; 2 U.S. Economists Win Nobel Award," p. 1.

Public Choice, fall, 1972, Gordon Tullock, "Institutional Change in American Economic Growth," pp. 131-132; 1983, Volume 40, issue 2, Gordan Tullock, review of Structure and Change in Economic History, pp. 233-234; October, 1992, Victor Vanberg, review of Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance, pp. 379-383.

Review of Radical Political Economics, September 1, 1993, review of Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance, p. 145.

Scandinavian Journal of Economics, June 1, 1994, "Douglass C. North's Contributions to Economics and Economic History," p. 185; June 1, 1994, "Fogel and North: Statics and Dynamics in Historical Economics," p. 161; June 1, 1994, "The Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics 1993," p. 155.

Science, October 22, 1993, "Economics: A Subdiscipline Comes in from the Cold," p. 508.

Southern Economic Journal, July 1, 1991, review of Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance, p. 296.

Times Higher Education Supplement, June 24, 2005, "Off the Charts and Deep into the Real World," p. 26.

Wall Street Journal, October 13, 1993, "Americans Win Nobel Award in Economics," p. 10, and "Chicago Rules," p. 22.

ONLINE

Nobel Prize Web site,http://nobelprize.org/ (April 23, 2008), biography of Douglass C. North.

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Web site,http://www.unece.org/ (February 25, 2003), "Nobel Prize Laureate Douglass C. North to Give Gunnar Myrdal Lecture on the Occasion of the 58th Session of the Economic Commission for Europe."

Washington University in St. Louis Web site,http://economics.wustl.edu/ (April 23, 2008), faculty profile of Douglass C. North.

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North, Douglass C. 1920- (Douglass Cecil North)

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