Donald J. Harris

Donald J. Harris
Donald Jasper Harris

(1938-08-23) August 23, 1938 (age 82)
Brown's Town, St. Ann Parish, Jamaica
  • Jamaica
  • United States
(m. 1963; div. 1971)
Academic background
Alma materUniversity of London (BA)
University of California, Berkeley (MA, PhD)
ThesisInflation, Capital Accumulation and Economic Growth : A Theoretical and Numerical Analysis (1966)
Doctoral advisorDaniel McFadden
Academic work
Sub-disciplinePost-Keynesian development economics
Doctoral studentsRobert A. Blecker

Donald Jasper Harris (born August 23, 1938) is a Jamaican-American economist and professor emeritus at Stanford University, known for applying post-Keynesian ideas to development economics.[1] He is the father of Kamala Harris, U.S. Senator from California and Vice president-elect of the United States, and Maya Harris, a lawyer and political commentator.[2]

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] He served there, at various times, as economic policy consultant to the Government of Jamaica and as economic adviser to successive Prime Ministers.[4][5]

His research and publications have centered on exploring the process of capital accumulation and its implications for economic growth with the aim of proving that economic inequality and uneven development are inevitable properties of economic growth in a market economy.[6] From this standpoint, he has sought to assess the traditions of economic study inherited from the classical economists and Karl Marx as well as modern contributions while engaging in related economic studies of various countries' experience.[3][7]

Early life and education

Born August 23, 1938 in Brown's Town, St. Ann Parish, Jamaica. He is the son of Beryl Christie (Finnegan, through her second husband) and Oscar Joseph Harris, who were of Afro-Jamaican heritage.[8] As a child he learned the catechism, was baptized and confirmed, and served as an acolyte in the church building, which construction was funded by Hamilton Brown, who in his opinion, and supported by statements of his grandmother, is his ancestor.[9] He grew up in the Orange Hill area of Saint Ann Parish, near Brown's Town.[10][11] Harris received his early education at Titchfield High School.

Harris received a Bachelor of Arts from the University College of the West IndiesUniversity of London in 1960, and a PhD from University of California, Berkeley in 1966.[12] His doctoral dissertation, Inflation, Capital Accumulation and Economic Growth: A Theoretical and Numerical Analysis, was supervised by econometrician Daniel McFadden.[13]


Harris's economic philosophy was critical of mainstream economics and questioned orthodox assumptions; he was once described as a "Marxist scholar" and said to be "too charismatic, a pied piper leading students astray from neo-Classical economics".[2]

Harris was an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign from 1966 to 1967 and at Northwestern University from 1967 to 1968. He moved to the University of Wisconsin–Madison as an associate professor in 1968. In 1972, he joined the faculty of Stanford University as a professor of economics, and became the first Black scholar to be granted tenure in Stanford's Department of Economics.[2] At various times he was a visiting fellow in Cambridge University and Delhi School of Economics; and visiting professor at Yale University.[4][12] He served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Economic Literature and of Social and Economic Studies.[14][15] He is a longtime member of the American Economic Association.[16]

He directed the Consortium Graduate School of Social Sciences at the University of the West Indies in 1986–1987, and he was a Fulbright Scholar in Brazil in 1990 and 1991, and in Mexico in 1992. In 1998, he retired from Stanford, becoming a professor emeritus.[12]

At Stanford, his doctoral students have included Steven Fazzari, a Professor of Economics at Washington University in St. Louis,[13] and Robert A. Blecker, a professor of economics at American University in Washington, D.C.[2] He helped to develop the new program in Alternative Approaches to Economic Analysis as a field of graduate study.[12] For many years he also taught the 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.[17][18][19]

Contributions to economic analysis and policy

Harris is said to work in the tradition of Post-Keynesian Economics.[20][21] He has acknowledged the works of Joan Robinson, Maurice Dobb, Piero Sraffa, Michal Kalecki, Karl Marx, John Maynard Keynes, Joseph Schumpeter, and W. Arthur Lewis as varied influences upon his work.[3][22][23][24]

One of Harris's most notable contributions to economics is his book Capital Accumulation and Income Distribution. 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 critique of alternative approaches to growth theory.[25]

Harris posited that 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.[26]

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".[27] 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.[citation needed]

Harris has done research on the economy of Jamaica, presenting 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.[3] Notable outcomes of this effort are the National Industrial Policy promulgated by the Government of Jamaica in 1996[28][29] and the Growth Inducement Strategy of 2011.[30][31]


Harris is the author of the economics monograph, Capital Accumulation and Income Distribution, published in 1978 by Stanford University Press.[32]

He has also published several books on the economy of Jamaica, including Jamaica's Export Economy: Towards a Strategy of Export-led Growth (Ian Randle Publishers, 1997)[33] and A Growth-Inducement Strategy for Jamaica in the Short and Medium Term (edited with G. Hutchinson, Planning Institute of Jamaica, 2012).[34]

Personal life

Harris arrived at the University of California, Berkeley on a colonial Jamaican government scholarship in the fall of 1961.[35] Later in the fall of 1962, he spoke at a meeting of the Afro American Association—a students' group at Berkeley whose members would go on to establish the discipline of Black studies, propose the holiday of Kwanzaa, and help form the Black Panther Party.[35] After his talk, he met Shyamala Gopalan (1938–2009), a graduate student in nutrition and endocrinology from India at Cal Berkeley who was in the audience.[35] According to Harris, "We talked then, continued to talk at a subsequent meeting, and at another, and another."[35] In July 1963 he married Gopalan.[35] The couple divorced in December 1971, when daughter Kamala was seven years old and daughter Maya was four years old.[36] The children visited Harris's family in Jamaica as they grew up.[37][10] In later years he became a naturalized U.S. citizen[38][39] some time prior to May 2015.[12]


  1. ^ "Donald J. Harris, 1938–". The History of Economic Thought. Institute for New Economic Thinking. Retrieved 2020-08-11.
  2. ^ a b c d Barry, Ellen (August 21, 2020). "Kamala Harris's father, a footnote in her speeches, is a prominent economist". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 August 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d "Donald J. Harris", Stanford University | Department of Economics.
  4. ^ a b Patterson, Percival J. (2018). My Political Journey. University of the West Indies Press: p. 220. ISBN 9789766407018
  5. ^ "Planning Institute of Jamaica hires growth expert". The Gleaner, Kingston, Jamaica. November 24, 2010.
  6. ^ Who's Who in Economics, Third Edition, 1990: pp. 499–500.
  7. ^ Harcourt, Geoffrey (1980). Review [Untitled], Journal of Economic Literature, 18 (3): pp. 1084–1086. JSTOR 2723980
  8. ^ Harris, Kamala (2019). The Truths We Hold: An American Journey. Penguin Publishing Group. p. 320, 330. ISBN 978-0-525-56072-2. my paternal grandfather, Oscar Joseph .. my paternal grandmother, Beryl
  9. ^ Harris, D. (14 Jan 2019). "KAMALA HARRIS' JAMAICAN HERITAGE – UPDATED. Reflections of a Jamaica's father". Jamaica Global.
  10. ^ a b Harris, Donald J. (26 September 2018). "Reflections of a Jamaican Father". I would go to her shop to wait for the drive home to Orange Hill, as published in "Kamala Harris' Jamaican Heritage". Jamaica Global 14 Jan 2019.
  11. ^ "Did U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris' Ancestor Own Slaves in Jamaica?".
  12. ^ a b c d e "Donald J. Harris Professional career". Stanford University. Archived from the original on 5 April 2015. Retrieved 2020-10-12. Citizenship .. Jamaica (by birth); USA (by naturalization).
  13. ^ a b Donald J. Harris at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  14. ^ The American Economic Review 75 (6): 653-654. JSTOR 1914337.
  15. ^ Social and Economic Studies. JSTOR
  16. ^ "Historical Overview | Faculty of Social Sciences | UWI".
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ "'Better' education, trade breaks hurt Caribbean nations, economist says". Stanford University News Service. October 19, 1994
  19. ^ "A new economic plan for Jamaica". Jamaica Observer. March 18, 2011
  20. ^ Harcourt, Geoffrey (2006). The Structure of Post-Keynesian Economics. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521833875.
  21. ^ "HET: Donald J. Harris"
  22. ^ Harcourt, Geoffrey (2012). "Joan Robinson and Her Circle (2005)" in The Making of a Post-Keynesian Economist. Palgrave Macmillan, London. pp. 183–200. doi:10.1057/9780230348653_12. ISBN 978-1-349-32988-5.
  23. ^ Steedman, Ian (1988). Sraffian Economics. Vol. I. Edward Elgar.
  24. ^ Howard, M. C.; King, J. E. (1976). The Economics of Marx, Penguin Education.
  25. ^ Jones-Hendrickson, S. B. (1980). "Review of Capital Accumulation and Income Distribution". Social and Economic Studies. 29 (1): 144–146. ISSN 0037-7651. JSTOR 27861872.
  26. ^ Harris, Donald J. (1973). "Capital, Distribution, and the Aggregate Production Function". The American Economic Review. 63 (1): 100–113. JSTOR 1803129
  27. ^ Harris, Donald J. (1985). “The theory of economic growth: from steady states to uneven development” in Feiwel, George R. (ed.), Issues in Contemporary Macroeconomics and Distribution. ISBN 9780873959421.
  28. ^ "National Industrial Policy, A Strategic Plan for Growth and Development". Jamaica Information Service. April 25, 1996.
  29. ^ Gomes, Anthony (August 17, 2003). "The National Industrial Policy revisited". Jamaica Observer.
  30. ^ Hutchinson, Gladstone; Harria, Donald J., eds. (2012). "A Growth-Inducement Strategy for Jamaica in the Short and Medium Term" (PDF). Kingston, Jamaica: Planning Institute of Jamaica.
  31. ^ McIntosh, Douglas (March 22, 2011). "PIOJ introduces Growth Inducement Strategy". Jamaica Information Service.
  32. ^ Reviews of Capital Accumulation and Income Distribution:
  33. ^ Collister, Keith (November 15, 2017). "How the IMF can help Jamaica unleash growth". Jamaica Observer.
  34. ^ Collister, Keith (October 22, 2014). "How to unlock growth in Jamaica". Jamaica Observer.
  35. ^ a b c d e Barry, Ellen (13 September 2020). "How Kamala Harris's Immigrant Parents Found a Home, and Each Other, in a Black Study Group". New York Times. Retrieved 13 September 2020.
  36. ^ Igoe, Katherine J. (August 11, 2020). "Donald Harris, Kamala Harris's Dad, Is a Renowned Stanford Professor". Marie Claire.
  37. ^ Dolan, Casey (February 10, 2019). "How Kamala Harris' immigrant parents shaped her life — and her political outlook". The Mercury News. Retrieved August 14, 2020. Kamala also visited far-flung family in India and Jamaica as she grew up, getting her first taste of the broader world.
  38. ^ McBride, Jessica (21 February 2019). "Donald Harris, Kamala Harris's Father: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know". Archived from the original on 2 March 2019. Donald Harris is also known as Donald J. Harris. He was born in Jamaica and is a naturalized U.S. citizen, according to his Stanford University biography.
  39. ^ Chon, Monica (12 August 2020). "Sen. Kamala Harris's Parents Met During the Civil Rights Movement". Oprah Magazine. According to Harris's 2018 autobiography, Donald was born in Jamaica in 1938 and immigrated to the United States to get his doctorate degree from the University of California, Berkeley. He eventually became a naturalized United States citizen.


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