Douglass C. North, a Washington University professor of
economic history, won the Nobel prize on Tuesday for his theory on
the way that nations create wealth.
North shares the $845,000 prize with a longtime friend, Robert
Fogel of the University of Chicago.
Fogel, also an economic historian, holds controversial theories
on the economics of American slavery.
In discussing the prize Tuesday afternoon on the Washington
University campus, North said: "It's the first time that economic
historians have been honored with the Nobel prize."
North, 72, was recognized for his work over the past 25 years
developing the theory that a nation's institutions - its judicial
system and property rights in particular - largely determine
whether its economy grows or withers.
Most contemporary economists ignore the role of institutions
when examining development in industrialized nations and the Third
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which administers the
Nobel Memorial Prize In Economics, called North "one of the
pioneers in `the new institutional economics.' "
The news of North's award came just before dawn at his home in
the Central West End.
"I was in bed," North said. "The call came at 5:30 in the
morning. It was the Swedish Academy of Sciences.
"Somebody I didn't know formally announced to me that Bob Fogel
and I had won the prize."
North's honor quickly set off celebrations at Washington
University, where colleagues gathered in his office throughout the
Chancellor William Danforth said the award of the Nobel prize -
the university's first since 1986 - "does make people realize
Washington University is an attractive place to be."
Several faculty members privately speculated that the honor
would lead to greater prominence for the economics department.
Despite the money and prestige that accompany the Nobel prize,
North seemed to take himself less than seriously.
A Classroom Professor
At midmorning, he stopped taking phone calls so he could
concentrate on his 11 a.m. class. During the class, one student
vigorously argued with the new Nobel laureate.
"I tell all my classes . . . that the first essence I want of
them is not to believe anything I say," North said afterward.
Later North pushed aside the idea that he should be a
presidential adviser. "I don't believe economists should shoot off
their mouths when they don't know what they are talking about," he
North's lack of pretension carries over to the classroom, one
"He is really fun," said Hugo Eyzaguirre, a doctoral student
in economics and a native of Peru. "He is very informal, friendly.
You get to talk about whatever you think.
" I came to this university because of him. …