• Wed. Nov 25th, 2020

Kamala Harris’s father, a footnote in her speeches, is a prominent economist.

In a warm, encyclopedic tribute to her family Wednesday night, as she formally accepted the vice-presidential nomination, Senator Kamala Harris skimmed past any discussion of her father, Donald J. Harris, a Jamaican-born professor of economics at Stanford University.

The reason is common to many of Ms. Harris’s generation: She is a child of divorce, raised by a single mother who became her most profound influence.

As Ms. Harris has stepped into the national spotlight, Dr. Harris, now 81 and long retired from teaching, has remained mostly silent. His only recent comments about her, published on a Jamaican website run by an acquaintance, express a combination of pride in his daughter and bitterness over their estrangement.

He scolded her in a letter, which has since been removed from the site, for joking in an interview that, growing up in a Jamaican family, it was natural that she had smoked marijuana. “Speaking for myself and my immediate Jamaican family, we wish to categorically dissociate ourselves from this travesty,” he wrote.

Dr. Harris did not respond to requests for comment.

Despite his low profile in the election cycle, Dr. Harris is not an obscure figure. He was the first Black scholar to receive tenure in Stanford’s economics department, and a prominent critic of mainstream economic theory from the left.

The Stanford Daily, reporting in 1976, described him as a “Marxist scholar,” and said there was some opposition to granting him tenure because he was “too charismatic, a pied piper leading students astray from neo-Classical economics.”

One of his former students at Stanford, Robert A. Blecker, now a professor of economics at American University, said Dr. Harris’s work questioned orthodox assumptions about growth — for instance that lower wages would increase employment rates, or that lower interest rates always result in increased investment.

“He was certainly very outspoken and prominent in the profession at onetime, but not in a public way,” Dr. Blecker said. “He was certainly not shy. When I saw Kamala grill Judge Kavanaugh at his hearing,” during his confirmation for the U.S. Supreme Court, “I saw echoes of her father grilling someone in a seminar.”