I can’t say I was ever a big fan of the neoclassical institutionalism of the late Douglass North, 1993 Nobel Laureate (with Robert Fogel) in Economics.
However, this vignette, as related by Margaret Levi and Barry Weingast, does serve to distinguish him from most contemporary neoclassical economists:
Doug’s decision to become an economist was not straightforward. Much of his history is told elsewhere, but the crucial moment came when Dorothea Lange, his fellow photographer in the Farm Security Administration, and her husband, Paul Taylor, Doug’s economics professor, asked him to dinner on his return from World War II. Taylor urged his profession, and Lange, hers. We know who won.
We both have experiences with Doug North illustrating the intellectual curiosity that nourished his insights and genius. Margaret met him in 1974 when she was in her first weeks as an assistant professor at the University of Washington. He sought her out because he understood that she was a Marxist, and he wanted to relearn the Marxism he had studied as a youth. They hit it off and that began a life-long friendship that included Doug’s wife and editor, Elisabeth Case. Doug and Margaret founded an undergraduate political economy program and taught together for nearly 10 years.
It’s hard to imagine any mainstream economist today showing an interest in Marxian theory much less seeking out a colleague to learn it.