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NOBEL PRIZE LAUREATE DOUGLASS C. NORTH TO GIVE GUNNAR MYRDAL LECTURE ON THE OCCASION OF THE 58TH SESSION OF THE ECONOMIC COMMISSION FOR EUROPE

Published: 25 February 2003

Geneva
Nobel prize winner Professor Douglass C. North of the United States will give the ECE 2003 Myrdal Lecture, in a series of lectures devoted to major international economic problems. His lecture, entitled "The Role of Institutions in Economic Development", will take place at the Palais des Nations (Salle XX) at 4.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 5 March 2003.

Professor North was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics in 1993 for ground-breaking research in economic history that integrated economics, sociology, statistics and history to explain economic and institutional change and the role institutions play in economic growth. Professor North is one of the pioneers of "the new institutional economics".

The lecture series is named in honour of Gunnar Myrdal, distinguished social scientist, and first Executive Secretary of the ECE (1947-1957), who himself received the Nobel Prize in economics in 1974. Like Professor North, Gunnar Myrdal also emphasized strongly the interdependence of economic, social, political and institutional factors in his research.

Institutions are the formal and informal sets of rules that govern the behaviour of human beings in a society and shape economic performance. Professor North has shown that, depending on their structure and enforcement, institutional arrangements can either foster or restrain economic development. A key institutional factor that stimulates economic development is the creation and enforcement of efficient property rights. But changing institutions is a slow process as they are rooted in the social values, norms and traditions of a society. The copying of formal legal and economic rules of successful economies is therefore no guarantee for improved economic performance, because they can be made effective only as a result of a longer process of learning-by-doing and behavioural adaptation. The experience of the former centrally planned economies of the ECE region, which after the revolutions of 1989 had to replace a large part of their institutional and organizational capital, provides important evidence in support of institutional economics as developed in the work of Professor North. The central role of institution-building for the transition process towards market economy systems was also emphasized in the UNECE Economic Survey of Europe in 1989-1990.

Professor North has had a very long and distinguished career in scholarly research, dating from the 1950s. He has lectured at most major American and European universities, and held positions at Cambridge University and Stanford University. Since 1983, Professor North has been at Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri where he is currently Spencer T. Olin Professor in Arts and Sciences as well as a professor of history and a fellow of the Center in Political Economy. Professor North was a member of the Board of Directors of the United States' National Bureau of Economic Research for twenty-five years until 1986. He is also Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Palo Alto, California. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1987 and has been a fellow of the British Academy since 1996.

Professor North has published several important books, including Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance, Structure and Change in Economic History, and The Rise of the Western World: A New Economic History (with R. Thomas).

Ref: ECE/GEN/03/P03


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