Nobel Prize-winning economist Douglass North dies at 95

Jan. 5, 2016, 11:44 p.m.

Douglass North, Nobel Prize-winning economist and Bartlett Burnap Senior Fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, died on Nov. 23, 2015, at the age of 95 in his home at Benzonia, Michigan.

North was a recipient of the Nobel Prize for economics in 1993 along with Robert Fogel for their independent work, which contributed to the development of a school of thought called “new institutional economics.”

According to the New York Times, North’s work found that conventional economic theory and markets often failed to explain long-run economic growth.  Instead, his research highlighted the role of other factors, namely political and social institutions in affecting long-term economic development. His emphasis on this subject drew new rigor to the quantitative analysis of how institutions, laws, property rights, religious beliefs and human cognition affect economics.

Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1920, North later crossed the country and attended the University of California at Berkeley, where he earned a B.A. in 1942 and Ph.D. in 1952.  In the interim time between earning these two degrees, he also served as a U.S. Merchant Marine and an instructor in celo-navigation.

In addition to spending 32 years teaching and conducting research at the University of Washington at Seattle, North also held positions at the British Academy, Washington University in St. Louis, Rice University, Cambridge University and Stanford University. According to the Hoover Institution website, over the course of his career, he wrote eight books and authored several dozen academic articles, served as an advisor to governments around the world, and also received many notable awards and honors, including the John R. Commons Award from the International Honors Society for Economics.  

From 1987 until 1988, North was a visiting fellow of the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University.  Beginning in the 1990s he started spending his winters at the Hoover Institution and was named the Bartlett Burnap Senior Fellow.

“Doug was known for his intense curiosity and his relentless — and even mischievous — pursuit of new ideas,” said professor of political science Barry R. Weingast, an associate of North, in a tribute to his deceased colleague.

“Doug was never satisfied with his ideas, always pushing to expand his understanding and knowledge,” he added.


Contact Erica Evans at elevans ‘at’

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