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Donald J. Harris
Donald Jasper Harris

(1938-08-23) August 23, 1938 (age 83)
Brown's Town, Saint Ann Parish, Jamaica
  • Jamaica
  • United States
Alma mater University of London (BA)
University of California, Berkeley (MA, PhD)
(m. 1963; div. 1971)
Scientific career
Thesis Inflation, Capital Accumulation and Economic Growth : A Theoretical and Numerical Analysis (1966)
Doctoral advisor Daniel McFadden
Doctoral students Robert 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. He is the father of Kamala Harris, former U.S. Senator from California and Vice President of the United States; and Maya Harris, a lawyer and political commentator.

Throughout his career, Harris has worked on economic analysis and policy regarding the economy of Jamaica, his native country. He served there, at various times, as economic policy consultant to the Government of Jamaica and as economic adviser to successive Prime Ministers.

Early life and education

Born on August 23, 1938 in Brown's Town, St. Ann Parish, Jamaica, Donald J. Harris is the son of Beryl Christie (Finnegan, ) and Oscar Joseph Harris, who were of Afro-Jamaican heritage. 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 funded by Hamilton Brown, who Harris believes--in accordance with statements made by his grandmother--is his ancestor. He grew up in the Orange Hill area of Saint Ann Parish, near Brown's Town. Harris received his early education at Titchfield High School.

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


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".

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

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.

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


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

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

Personal life

Harris arrived at the University of California, Berkeley on a colonial Jamaican government scholarship in the fall of 1961. 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. 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. According to Harris, "We talked then, continued to talk at a subsequent meeting, and at another, and another." In July 1963, he married Gopalan.

Harris and Gopalan had two children: Kamala Harris, former U.S. Senator from California and vice president of the United States; and Maya Harris, a lawyer and political commentator. The couple divorced in December 1971, when Kamala was seven years old and Maya was four years old. The children visited Harris's family in Jamaica as they grew up.

At some time prior to May 2015, Harris became a naturalized U.S. citizen.

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