Arnold Kling  

Dogs Not Barking

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In the latest Econ Journal Watch, at least two articles are about what is not found in economic literature. John Dawson argues that The Economic Freedom of the World index is under-utilized in studies of economic growth. Charles Blankart and Gerrit Koester argue that the so-called New Political Economy tends to underutilize public choice theory.

My own personal pet peeve is the underutilization of Douglass North and the new institutional economics. Baumol, et al, in Good Capitalism, Bad Capitalism barely mention him. David Warsh, in Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations, also shrugs off new institutional economics.

I would like to see a debate in something like the Journal of Economic Literature or the Journal of Economic Perspectives on the subject: Did Douglass North really deserve the Nobel Prize? If he did, then it seems to me that economists who write about growth, economic systems, and economic institutions ought to be quoting him at length and extending his analysis. On the other hand, if economists believe that North has nothing useful to offer on these topics, then I would like to see that position articulated.

As it stands now, my hypothesis for why North gets no love from mainstream economists is that it has nothing to do with the quality of his work. Instead, it is explained by the inbreeding phenomenon. Real influence in the profession comes less from persuasion than from the ability to produce children and grandchildren--Ph.D's who follow in your footsteps. That in turn depends more on being on the faculty at a top graduate school than anything else. There are not enough North children or grandchildren around to preserve his legacy.

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CATEGORIES: Economic Methods

COMMENTS (4 to date)
Gabriel M. writes:

Yes, but why no descendants? There are plenty of people today who would give an arm and a leg to do a PhD with a Lucas or Prescott and in a sense, their best work is behind them (maybe).

The problem might come from the fact that people like North didn't associate their name with a catchy, insightful, politically-neutral, empirically successful or theoretically prolific hypothesis.

eric writes:

The problem is that North's work is fine history, but lousy economic 'science'. That is, it's all well and good to read Hernando De Soto, Forrest McDonald, Paul Johnson, or Will Durant, but you can't really build a model on what they did, and science is about recipes (models), not narratives.

dearieme writes:

"science is about recipes (models), not narratives": come, come. The Origin of Species is one of the finest narratives ever written.

Arnold Williams writes:

Number of papers after searching for "Douglass North" on SSRN: 13, 8 of which he authored. Not stunning.

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