Douglass C. North

Bartlett Burnap Senior Fellow
Biography: 

Douglass C. North is the Hoover Institution's Bartlett Burnap Senior Fellow. His current research activities include research on property rights, transaction costs, economic organization in history, a theory of the state, the free rider problem, ideology, growth of government, economic and social change, and a theory of institutional change.

North received the Nobel Prize in economics in 1993. He was elected a fellow of the British Academy in July 1996 and was installed as the Spencer T. Olin Professor in Arts and Sciences at Washington University in Saint Louis in October 1996.

He was appointed Luce Professor of Law and Liberty in the Department of Economics at Washington University in the fall of 1983 and was director of the Center in Political Economy from December 1984 through June 1990. In April 1985, he was appointed editor of the Cambridge series of books and monographs on The Political Economy of Institutions and Decisions.

North's appointments at Washington University in Saint Louis follow thirty-two years at the University of Washington at Seattle, where he was director of the Institute for Economic Research for five years and chairman for twelve years. He was the Peterkin Professor of Political Economics at Rice University in the fall of 1979, Pitt Professor at Cambridge University in England in 1981–82, and a visiting fellow of the center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University in 1987–88. He was editor of the Journal of Economic History for five years and president of the Economic History Association in 1972. He was a twenty-year member of the Board of Directors of the National Bureau of Economic Research until 1986.

In 1987, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has lectured at most major American and European universities and many Asian universities. He is the author of more than fifty articles and eight books.

That part of his research that focused on the formation of political and economic institutions and the consequences of these institutions on the performance of economics through time was published in Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance (Cambridge University Press).

During the past several years, Professor North has begun using insights from cognitive and behavioral science to better understand economic change over time. In 2005, he incorporated his findings in his book - Understanding the Process of Economic Change.

North received his BA in 1942 and his PhD in 1952 from the University of California at Berkeley. He also served as a US Merchant Marine from 1942 to 1946 and was an instructor in celo-navigation from 1944 to 1946.

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Recent Commentary

Violence and Social Orders: A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded Human History

by Douglass C. North, Barry R. Weingastvia Cambridge University Press
Sunday, February 1, 2009

All societies must deal with the possibility of violence, and they do so in different ways.

The War on Terror: An Alternative Approach

by Douglass C. Northvia Hoover Digest
Sunday, January 30, 2005

How to rethink the war on terror. By Douglass C. North.

If Economists Are So Smart, Why Is Africa So Poor?

by Barry R. Weingast, Douglass C. North, Stephen Habervia Hoover Digest
Thursday, October 30, 2003

Despite an enormous inflow of foreign aid, most African countries today are poorer than they were a generation ago. What’s gone wrong? By Hoover fellows Stephen Haber, Douglass C. North, and Barry R. Weingast.

The Poverty Trap

by Stephen Haber, Douglass C. North, Barry R. Weingastvia Hoover Digest
Wednesday, October 30, 2002

If economists are so smart, why are developing countries so poor? By Hoover fellows Stephen Haber, Douglass C. North, and Barry R. Weingast.

Poverty in the US
Featured Commentary

Poverty in the Midst of Plenty

by Douglass C. Northvia Hoover Daily Report
Monday, October 2, 2000

We must create incentives for people to invest in more efficient technology, increase their skills, and organize efficient markets.

Why England Developed Healthy Markets-and Spain Didn't

by Douglass C. Northvia Hoover Digest
Wednesday, April 30, 1997

Over several centuries, England developed free markets-and a large cast of supporting institutions, including private property and an independent judiciary. During the same period, Spain failed to develop any such institutions, enduring economic stagnation instead. Why? It all started with some kings and queens who were short of funds. Nobel Prize-winner and Hoover fellow Douglass C. North explains.

Understanding the Process of Economic Change

Understanding the Process of Economic Change, North's most recent book.