Donald Harris (economist)

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Donald Harris
Professor Donald Harris speaking about Jamaica’s economy
Born (1938-08-23) August 23, 1938 (age 85)
EducationPh.D. in Economics
Alma mater
  • Titchfield High School
  • University College of the West Indies
  • University of California
  • Economist
  • Professor
Notable work
Writer of book “Capital Accumulation and Income Distribution”

Donald J. Harris is an American economist and Professor of Economics, Emeritus, at Stanford University.[1] His research and publications have centered on exploring the analytical conception of the process of capital accumulation and its implications for a theory of growth of the economy, with the aim of providing thereby an explanation of the reproduction of economic inequality and uneven development as intrinsic properties of the process of economic growth in a market economy.[2] From this standpoint, he has sought to critically assess the traditions of economic analysis inherited from the Classical Economists and Marx as well as contemporary contributions, while engaging in related empirical and historical studies of various countries' experience.

Throughout his career he has had a continuing engagement with work on economic analysis and policy for the economy of Jamaica, his native country.[3][4][5][6] He served there, at various times, as economic policy consultant to the Government of Jamaica and as economic adviser to successive Prime Ministers.[7][8]


Born August 23, 1938 in Jamaica, Harris received his early education at Titchfield High School and his undergraduate degree from the University College of the West Indies in Jamaica in 1960. He immigrated to the USA for graduate study in 1961and received his Ph.D. in Economics from the University of California – Berkeley in 1966.

Career and professional activities

After completing his Ph.D. Degree, Harris was appointed Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois, next at Northwestern University, and then an Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin, before becoming a Full Professor at Stanford University in 1972.[9][10] At various times he was a Visiting Fellow in Cambridge University (Faculty of Economics 1966; Clare Hall 1969, 1971; Trinity College 1982) and Delhi School of Economics (1968); Visiting Professor at Yale University (1977-1978); and Fulbright Scholar in Brazil (1990, 1991) and Mexico (1992).[9] He served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Economic Literature (1980 -1983) and of Social and Economic Studies (1980 -2016).[11] He is a longtime member of the American Economic Association. He also served (1986 - 1987) as the first Director of the Consortium Graduate School of Social Sciences at the University of the West Indies.[12]

At Stanford, Harris was a leader in developing the new program in Alternative Approaches to Economic Analysis as a field of graduate study.[9] For many years he also taught the popular undergraduate course Theory of Capitalist Development. He took early retirement from Stanford in 1998 in order to pursue his interest in developing public policies to promote economic growth and advance social equity.[6][13][14]

Contributions to economic analysis and policy

Harris is said to work in the tradition of Post-Keynesian Economics.[15][16] He has acknowledged the works of Joan Robinson, Maurice Dobb, Piero Sraffa, Michal Kalecki, Karl Marx, John Maynard Keynes, Joseph Schumpeter, and William Arthur Lewis as varied influences upon his work.[17][18][19][20]

His most notable contribution to economics is his book Capital Accumulation and Income Distribution.[20] In this work, he lays out the familiar linear model of production and exchange where prices are determined as prices of production in the classical manner, subject to given conditions of distribution He builds on this framework an analysis of growth that exposes the possibility of economic crises arising from various sources related to investment demand, wage determination, profit realization, and labor supply and, from this perspective, offers a detailed critique of alternative approaches to growth theory.

Harris showed precisely how and why the value measure of capital, as determined by the prices of production of the underlying produced capital goods, is in general not inversely related to the profit rate. This analysis called into question a traditional neoclassical interpretation of determination of income shares, as Joan Robinson had previously argued. It also served as a challenge to the logical basis of the aggregate production function used as a proxy or “surrogate’ for representing complex production systems in both theoretical and empirical work.[21]

A major focus of his subsequent research is on the phenomenon of “uneven development”, defined as “persistent differences in levels and rates of economic development between different sectors of the economy”.[22][23] Most work on growth theory has been done by analyzing “steady states,” wherein all of the key variables converge to the same rate of growth. Harris argues that a necessary condition for understanding the process of economic growth is to recognize the existence of uneven development as a persistent, not transitory, feature of the process. This can be inferred by observing the unevenness of growth of differing economies, regions, sectors of industry, individual firms, etc. He shows that it also follows from the logic of the growth process. Conceiving of the firm as a unit of capital seeking to compete with rivals in processes of expansion and technical change implies that there are winners and losers and an uneven pace of growth within and across industries and therefore among national economies. His analysis relies on a conception of business competition and the growth of firms like that suggested by Joseph Schumpeter and his present-day followers who have sought to develop an evolutionary theory of economic development.

Harris has done extensive research on the economy of Jamaica over many years, presenting detailed analyses and reports on the structural conditions, historical performance, and contemporary problems of the economy, as well as developing plans and policies for promoting economic growth and social inclusion. Notable outcomes of this effort are the National Industrial Policy promulgated by the Government of Jamaica in 1996 [24] and the Growth Inducement Strategy of 2011.[25]

His research has covered a wide range of other matters, including the productivity gap, investment finance, econometric models, economic history, and the economic status of Black Americans.

Selected publications

Economic Growth and Development

"Inflation, Income Distribution, and Capital Accumulation in a Two Sector Model of Growth", The Economic Journal, Vol. 77, December 1967, 814–833.

"Income, Prices, and the Balance of Payments in Underdeveloped Economies: A Short run Model", Oxford Economic Papers, Vol. 22, No. 2, July 1970, 156–172.

"Feasible Growth with Specificity of Capital and Surplus Labor", Economic Inquiry, 10(1), March 1972, 65–75.

"The Theory of Economic Growth: A Critique and Reformulation", American Economic Review, May 1975, 329–337.

"Structural Change and Economic Growth: A Review Article", Contributions to Political Economy, 1, 1982, 25–45.

Classical, Neoclassical, and Marxian Economic Theory

"On Marx's Scheme of Reproduction and Accumulation", Journal of Political Economy, 80(3), Part I, May/June 1972, 505–522.

"Accumulation of Capital and the Rate of Profit in Marxian Theory", Cambridge Journal of Economics, 7, September/December 1983, 311–330.

"The Complex Dynamics of the Simple Ricardian System", (with Amit Bhaduri), Quarterly Journal of Economics, 102(4), November 1987, 893–901.

"On the Classical Theory of Competition", Cambridge Journal of Economics, 12(1), March 1988, 139–167.

"Equilibrium and Stability in Classical Theory", in Nicholas Kaldor and Mainstream Economics, E. J. Nell & W. Semmler, eds., London: Macmillan, 1991, 88–100.

"Profits, Productivity, and Thrift: The Neoclassical Theory of Capital and Distribution Revisited", Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, 3(3), Spring 1981, 359–382.

"Robinson on 'History versus Equilibrium'", in Joan Robinson's Economics, A Centennial Celebration, Bill Gibson (ed.), Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham, UK, 2005, 81–108.

"Introduction," in Economic Theory of the Leisure Class by N. I. Bukharin, New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972.

Jamaica and Caribbean Economies

"Econometric Analysis of Household Consumption in Jamaica", Social and Economic Studies, 13(4), 1964, 471–487.

"Saving and Foreign Trade as Constraints in Economic Growth: A Study of Jamaica", Social and Economic Studies, 19(2), June 1970, 147–177.

"The Jamaican Economy in the 21st Century: Challenges to Development and Requirements of a Response", in Jamaica: Preparing for the 21st Century, Planning Institute of Jamaica, Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers, 1994, 13–52.

"Finance, Investment, and Growth: Economic Policy for Caribbean Economies in the Next (Quarter) Century", in Whither the Caribbean Region?, K. Worrell and A. Gonzales (eds.), Barbados: Caribbean Development Bank, 1996, 37–63.

Jamaica's Export Economy: Towards a Strategy of Export-led Growth, Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers, 1997.

"Jamaica's Debt-Propelled Economy: a Failed Economic Strategy and its Aftermath", Working Paper Series No. 1, Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies, Jamaica: University of the West Indies, 2010.

US Economy

"The 1967 Budget and the Postwar Economy", Illinois Business Review, Vol.23, No. 2, 1966, 6–8.

"The Black Ghetto as 'Internal Colony': A Theoretical Critique and Alternative Formulation", Review of Black Political Economy, 2(4), Summer 1972, 3–33.

"Capitalist Exploitation and Black Labor: Some Conceptual Issues", Review of Black Political Economy, 8(2), Winter 1978, 113–151.

"Economic Growth, Structural Change, and the Relative Income Status of Blacks in the U. S. Economy, 1947–78", Review of Black Political Economy, 12(3), March 1983, 75–92.


  1. "Donald J. Harris | Economics".
  2. "Who's Who in Economics, Third Edition".
  3. "'Better' education, trade breaks hurt Caribbean nations, economist says".
  4. "Jamaica Observer Limited".
  5. "PIOJ Introduces Growth Inducement Strategy". 22 March 2011.
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Jamaica Observer Limited".
  7. Patterson, P. J. (2018). My Political Journey: Jamaica's Sixth Prime Minister. ISBN 9789766407018.
  8. "Planning Institute of Jamaica hires growth expert". 24 November 2010.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2
  10. "Harris, Donald J. | Economics at Illinois".
  11. "Social and Economic Studies on JSTOR".
  12. "Historical Overview | Faculty of Social Sciences | the University of the West Indies at Mona, Jamaica". 21 January 2011.
  13. "The Stanford Daily Archives".
  14. Rodrik, Dani; Perez, Carlota; Nesvetailova, Anastasia; Harris, Donald J.; MacFarlane, Laurie; Perrons, Diane (2018). "Searching for an alternative economic model". Ippr Progressive Review. 25 (2): 114–132. doi:10.1111/newe.12107.
  15. "Structure post keynesian economics core contributions pioneers | History of economic thought and methodology". Cambridge University Press.
  16. "HET: Donald J. Harris".
  17. Harcourt, G. C. (2012). "Joan Robinson and Her Circle (2005)". The Making of a Post-Keynesian Economist. pp. 183–200. doi:10.1057/9780230348653_12. ISBN 978-1-349-32988-5.
  18. "Sraffian Economics".
  20. 20.0 20.1
  21. "Growth profits and property essays revival political economy | Economic development and growth". Cambridge University Press.
  22. Feiwel, George R. (January 1985). Issues in Contemporary Macroeconomics and Distribution. ISBN 9780873959421.
  23. Harris, Donald J. (2008). "Uneven Development". The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics. pp. 1–8. doi:10.1057/978-1-349-95121-5_1451-2. ISBN 978-1-349-95121-5.

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