Nobel-Prize-winning economist to speak at Syracuse’s Maxwell School
Nobel-Prize-winning economist to speak at Syracuse’s Maxwell SchoolApril 01, 2005Matthew R. Snydermrsnyder@syr.edu
Douglass C. North, the 1993 Nobel laureate in economics, will speak at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs on April 8. The lecture, which is open to the public, will be held at 4 p.m. in Maxwell Auditorium.
In his lecture, North will introduce his audience to his latest writings on social change. His topic, “A New Theory of Political Economy,” draws upon material from his forthcoming book of the same title. He will share his latest insights into the historical evolution of economies, stressing the importance of social, cultural, political and biological determinants.
North is a professor of economics and Spencer T. Olin Professor in Arts and Sciences at Washington University-St.Louis, and the Bartlett Burnap Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is the author, co-author or editor of nine books. In announcing their choice for the Economic Sciences Nobel, the Swedish Academy called North “an inspirer, a producer of ideas, who identifies new problems and shows how we can solve old ones more effectively.”
North inspired a revolution in economic history a generation ago by demonstrating that economic performance is determined largely by the kind and quality of institutions that structure human interaction. He is a founder of the New Institutional Economics (today a subfield of economics), which argues that new institutions arise when groups in society see a possibility for profits that are impossible to realize under existing institutional conditions. North used his theory to explain economic changes in 19th century America and the economic development of Western Europe from the middle ages to the 18th century. In promoting the study of institutional change, North rejected as insufficient explanations for growth based on innovation and discovery. Seeing these as part of the growth process rather than as an explanation for it, North effectively argued that economic organizations are the key to economic development.
In his recent work, North tackles the fundamental question of why some countries are rich and others are poor. With special reference to the former Soviet states, North argues that development is hindered by high transactions costs and by an inability to create binding contracts, both of which lead to missed opportunities for gainful exchange. His most recent book, “Understanding the Process of Economic Change” (Princeton University Press, 2005), explains how the cultural, religious and political structures of a society shape the institutions that determine its economic performance. North argues that the ability of a society to develop depends largely on its “adaptive efficiency,” its ability to create institutions that are productive, stable, fair and broadly accepted–and, importantly, flexible enough to be changed or replaced in response to political and economic feedback.