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Development Lessons From the Past in a Non-Ergodic World

How is it that, since Renaissance Europe, some nations of the world managed to grow and maintain great wealth while other countries remained poor? Among the many economists, social historians, and other social scientists who have tried to explain the forces and conditions that precipitated the economic emergence of the West are four who have addressed one or another variant of this question for the better part of their lives: Douglass North, Alfred Crosby, Nathan Rosenberg, and Robert Higgs, who this spring will comprise an Athenaeum speakers series entitled How the West Grew Rich. The series is sponsored by the Family of Benjamin Z. Gould Center for Humanistic Studies.

Douglass C. North, corecipient of the 1993 Nobel Prize in Economic Science, has, over a distinguished career spanning more than 50 years, concentrated on the formation of political and economic institutions, the consequences of these institutions, and the performance of economies through time. Professor North has taught at the University of Washington in Seattle, where he spent 33 years; at Rice University, where he was the Peterkin Professor of Political Economics; at Cambridge University, as Pitt Professor of American Institutions; and at Stanford, as Visiting Fellow of the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences and (currently) Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution.

The author of more than 50 articles and eight books (including Economic Growth of the United States, 1790 to 1860 (1961), Growth and Welfare in the American Past: A New Economic History (1966), and Structure and Change in Economic History (1981)) , North has garnered virtually all of the economic profession's major awards. In addition to winning the Nobel Prize with colleague R.W. Fogel, North's honors include election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and to the Fellowship of the British Academy. In 1992 he became the first economic historian ever to win the highly prestigious John R. Commons Award, and in 1996 was installed as the first Spencer T. Olin Professor in the Arts and Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.