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Nobel winner ushers in new center at ASU

January 14, 2008

With the opening of The Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity, ASU’s School of Human Evolution & Social Change has added another dimension of cross-disciplinary collaboration to the New American University.

Focused on empirical and theoretical analyses of institutions, the center will meld laboratory research, field work, archival activities, and mathematical and agent-based modeling in ways that are meant to guide policy-making and decision-making toward sustainable development.

The center officially launches today with a brief ceremony and open house at 2 p.m., in Matthews Hall on the Tempe campus, followed by Nobel Memorial Prize winner Douglass C. North’s public lecture at 7 p.m., in the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law Great Hall on the Tempe campus.

North, who will speak on “A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded Human History,” has worn many hats in his lifetime – photographer, rancher, pilot, ship navigator – but he is probably best known for his work in economics, which earned him and co-recipient R.W. Fogel a Nobel Prize in 1993.

Economics carries a dry connotation for some, but North's approach to the subject is anything but dull. Having sailed the world as a Merchant Marine in World War II, studied in Switzerland, and lectured extensively throughout Europe and Asia, North brings a global perspective to his field.

His research framework spans the ages, as well as the world, and merges politics, history and economics in an attempt to trace the evolution of humanity in relation to these fields. North is as interested in systems of belief as he is in goods and services. A proponent and practitioner of intellectual fusion and an unconventional scholar, North claims to have secured a firm grip on economic theory and reasoning by playing chess daily for three years with theorist Don Gordon at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Born in 1920 in Cambridge, Mass., North spent his youth in the Northeast United States, Switzerland and Canada. He was mentored by M.M. Knight at the University of California–Berkeley and began his career with an analytical focus on life insurance and investment banking before his interest turned to economic growth and then economic history, particularly long-run institutional change.

Rather than simply spew out theories and research projects, North has long aimed to make a positive impact through his work. An example of his real-world involvement is his participation in the Copenhagen Consensus Center, which was designed to bring together renowned economists to discuss and issue cost-efficient policy recommendations on global problems ranging from environmental pollution to HIV/AIDS.

A Fellow of the British Academy and winner of the prestigious John R. Commons Award, North is the founder of an integrative center for new institutional social sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. Along with fellow Nobel Prize recipient (1991) Ronald Coase, North established the International Society for the New Institutional Economics. Currently the Spencer T. Olin Professor in Arts and Sciences at Washington University and the Hoover Institution's Bartlett Burnap Senior Fellow, North remains a prolific writer and an active researcher and lecturer. His recent research focuses on organization in history, ideology, and the growth of government and theory of institutional change.

North's lecture and all other launch events are free and open to the public. For more information, contact Ann Evans at (480) 965-4193.


Rebecca Howe, (480) 727-6577