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Douglass Cecil North (1920–2015) was the Spencer T. Olin Professor in Arts and Sciences and emeritus member of the economics department at Washington University in St. Louis. He was a corecipient, with University of Chicago economist Robert W. Fogel, of the 1993 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics Sciences in recognition for their research combining economic theory with quantitative methods to explain how economic institutions change. North’s contribution can be aptly summarized as “institutions matter.”

North’s research fits broadly within the realm of economic history. His early work focused on the economic history of the United States, with a particular emphasis on understanding the process of economic growth. In his book, The Economic Growth of the United States, 1790–1860, published in 1961, North argues that the growth ...

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