Donald J. Harris

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Donald Harris

Donald Jasper Harris

(1938-08-23) August 23, 1938 (age 85)
  • Jamaica
  • United States
(m. 1963; div. 1971)
RelativesHarris family
Academic background
EducationUniversity 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 students
WebsiteStanford Department of Economics page

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 the 49th and current vice president of the United States, Kamala Harris, as well as of her sister, lawyer and political commentator Maya Harris.

Throughout his career, Harris has worked on economic analysis and policy regarding the economy of Jamaica, his native country.[2] He served there, at various times, as economic policy consultant to the Government of Jamaica and as economic adviser to successive prime ministers.[3][4] On October 18, 2021, he was honored with appointment to the Order of Merit, Jamaica's National Honor award, "for his outstanding contribution to national development".[5]

Early life and education[edit]

Donald Jasper Harris was born in Brown's Town, St. Ann Parish, Jamaica, the son of Beryl Christie Harris (née Finegan)[6][7] and Oscar Joseph Harris, who were of Afro-Jamaican and Irish-Jamaican heritage[8] and whose father was descendant of slave owners.[9] As a child, Harris learned the catechism, was baptized and confirmed in the Anglican Church, and served as an acolyte. According to Harris, the construction of the local Anglican Church was founded by Hamilton Brown, who Harris believes—in accordance with statements made by his grandmother—is his ancestor.[10] He grew up in the Orange Hill area of Saint Ann Parish, near Brown's Town.[11][12] Harris received his early education at Titchfield High School.[citation needed]

Harris studied at the University College of the West Indies and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of London in 1960 and a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley in 1966.[13] His doctoral dissertation, Inflation, Capital Accumulation and Economic Growth: A Theoretical and Numerical Analysis, was supervised by econometrician Daniel McFadden.[14]


Harris's economic philosophy was critical of mainstream economics and questioned orthodox assumptions. He was once described as a "Marxist scholar".[15]

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.[15] At various times he was a visiting fellow in Cambridge University and Delhi School of Economics; and visiting professor at Yale University.[13] He served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Economic Literature and of Social and Economic Studies.[16][17] He is a longtime member of the American Economic Association.[18]

Harris 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.[13]

At Stanford, Harris's doctoral students have included Steven Fazzari, a professor of economics at Washington University in St. Louis,[14] and Robert A. Blecker, a professor of economics at American University in Washington, D.C.[15] He helped to develop the new program in Alternative Approaches to Economic Analysis as a field of graduate study.[13] 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.[19][20][21]

Contributions to economic analysis and policy[edit]

Harris's research and publications have focused 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.[22] 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.[2][23]

Harris is said to work in the tradition of Post-Keynesian Economics.[24][25] 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 influences upon his work.[2][26][27][28]

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.[29]

Harris explained 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.[30] He also examined the meaning and limitations of the concept of choice of technique and showed that it is inconsistent with observed features of the process of technological change. [31]

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".[32][33] His analysis locates the impetus for growth and development in the drive for investment and technological change by individual firms. Sectoral differentiation and inequality of outcomes are shown to arise from the dynamics of adjustment to technological change within and across firms over time. Features of the adjustment process are posited to be consistent with the conception of an evolutionary process.

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.[2] Notable outcomes of this effort are the National Industrial Policy promulgated by the Government of Jamaica in 1996[34][35] and the Growth Inducement Strategy of 2011.[36][37]


Harris is the author of the monograph, Capital Accumulation and Income Distribution, published in 1978 by Stanford University Press.[38]

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)[39] and A Growth-Inducement Strategy for Jamaica in the Short and Medium Term (edited with G. Hutchinson, Planning Institute of Jamaica, 2012).[40]

Personal life[edit]

Harris arrived at the University of California, Berkeley on the Issa Scholarship (founded and funded by Kingston merchant Elias A.Issa in the 1930s) in the fall of 1961.[41] Later in the fall of 1962, he spoke at a meeting of the Afro-American Association — a students' group at Berkeley.[41] 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.[41] According to Harris, "We talked then, continued to talk at a subsequent meeting, and at another, and another."[41] In July 1963, he married Gopalan.[41]

Harris and Gopalan had two children: Kamala Harris, former U.S. Senator from California and as of 2021 vice president of the United States; and Maya Harris, a lawyer and political commentator.[15][41] The couple divorced when Kamala was either five[42] or seven[43] years old, possibly in December 1971.[citation needed]

The children visited Harris's family in Jamaica as they grew up.[44][11]

At some time prior to May 2015, Harris became a naturalized U.S. citizen.[45][46][13]


  1. ^ "Donald J. Harris, 1938–". The History of Economic Thought. Institute for New Economic Thinking. Retrieved August 11, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d "Donald J. Harris", Stanford University | Department of Economics.
  3. ^ Patterson, Percival J. (2018). My Political Journey. University of the West Indies Press: p. 220. ISBN 9789766407018
  4. ^ "Planning Institute of Jamaica hires growth expert". The Gleaner, Kingston, Jamaica. November 24, 2010.
  5. ^ "Prof Donald Harris, father of US vice president, to receive Jamaica's third highest honour". Jamaica Observer. August 6, 2021.
  6. ^ McDermott, Peter (September 23, 2020). "Running mates share a family name". The Irish Echo. Retrieved April 1, 2022.
  7. ^ "Who is Donald Harris? Kamala's Jamaican dad is a prominent economist". Loop Caribbean News. November 10, 2020. Retrieved April 1, 2022.
  8. ^ Harris, Kamala (2019). The Truths We Hold: An American Journey. Penguin Publishing Group. pp. 320, 330. ISBN 978-0-525-56072-2. my paternal grandfather, Oscar Joseph … my paternal grandmother, Beryl
  9. ^ Washington, District of Columbia 1800 I. Street NW; Dc 20006. "PolitiFact - Looking at claims Kamala Harris is the descendant of a slave owner". @politifact. Retrieved October 15, 2023.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  10. ^ Harris, D. (January 14, 2019). "Kamala Harris' Jamaican Heritage – Updated: Reflections of a Jamaica's father". Jamaica Global.
  11. ^ a b Harris, Donald J. (September 26, 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 Online. January 14, 2019.
  12. ^ "Did U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris' Ancestor Own Slaves in Jamaica?". Snopes.
  13. ^ a b c d e "Donald J. Harris Professional career". Stanford University. Archived from the original on April 5, 2015. Retrieved October 12, 2020. Citizenship .. Jamaica (by birth); USA (by naturalization).
  14. ^ a b Donald J. Harris at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  15. ^ 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 August 24, 2020.
  16. ^ The American Economic Review 75 (6): 653–654. JSTOR 1914337.
  17. ^ Social and Economic Studies. JSTOR
  18. ^ "Historical Overview | Faculty of Social Sciences | UWI".
  19. ^ 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. S2CID 158883249.
  20. ^ "'Better' education, trade breaks hurt Caribbean nations, economist says". Stanford University News Service. October 19, 1994
  21. ^ "A new economic plan for Jamaica". Jamaica Observer. March 18, 2011
  22. ^ Who's Who in Economics, Third Edition, 1990: pp. 499–500.
  23. ^ Harcourt, Geoffrey (1980). Review [Untitled], Journal of Economic Literature, 18 (3): pp. 1084–1086. JSTOR 2723980
  24. ^ Harcourt, Geoffrey (2006). The Structure of Post-Keynesian Economics. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521833875.
  25. ^ "HET: Donald J. Harris"
  26. ^ 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.
  27. ^ Steedman, Ian (1988). Sraffian Economics. Vol. I. Edward Elgar.
  28. ^ Howard, M. C.; King, J. E. (1976). The Economics of Marx, Penguin Education.
  29. ^ 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.
  30. ^ Harris, Donald J. (1973). "Capital, Distribution, and the Aggregate Production Function". The American Economic Review. 63 (1): 100–113. JSTOR 1803129
  31. ^ Harris, Donald J. (2022). “Capital, Technology, and Time”. Contributions to Political Economy. 41(1): 180-188. [1]
  32. ^ 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.
  33. ^ Harris, Donald J. (2008). “Uneven Development” in The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics. Palgrave Macmillan, London. [2]
  34. ^ "National Industrial Policy, A Strategic Plan for Growth and Development". Jamaica Information Service. April 25, 1996.
  35. ^ Gomes, Anthony (August 17, 2003). "The National Industrial Policy revisited". Jamaica Observer.
  36. ^ Hutchinson, Gladstone; Harris, Donald J., eds. (2012). "A Growth-Inducement Strategy for Jamaica in the Short and Medium Term" (PDF). Kingston, Jamaica: Planning Institute of Jamaica.
  37. ^ McIntosh, Douglas (March 22, 2011). "PIOJ introduces Growth Inducement Strategy". Jamaica Information Service.
  38. ^ Reviews of Capital Accumulation and Income Distribution:
  39. ^ Collister, Keith (November 15, 2017). "How the IMF can help Jamaica unleash growth". Jamaica Observer.
  40. ^ Collister, Keith (October 22, 2014). "How to unlock growth in Jamaica". Jamaica Observer.
  41. ^ a b c d e f Barry, Ellen (September 13, 2020). "How Kamala Harris's Immigrant Parents Found a Home, and Each Other, in a Black Study Group". New York Times. Retrieved September 13, 2020.
  42. ^ Finnegan, Michael (September 30, 2015). "How race helped shape the politics of Senate candidate Kamala Harris". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 1, 2018. Her parents, Shyamala Gopalan and Donald J. Harris, met as graduate students at UC Berkeley. They divorced when Harris was 5.
  43. ^ Igoe, Katherine J. (August 11, 2020). "Donald Harris, Kamala Harris's Dad, Is a Renowned Stanford Professor". Marie Claire. She and Donald separated when Kamala was five and divorced when she was seven.
  44. ^ 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.
  45. ^ McBride, Jessica (February 21, 2019). "Donald Harris, Kamala Harris's Father: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know". Archived from the original on March 2, 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.
  46. ^ Chon, Monica (August 12, 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.