Noel Maurer

Associate Professor of Business Administration

Noel Maurer is an associate professor at the Harvard Business School in the Business, Government and the International Economy (BGIE) unit. Maurer earned his Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1997. Between 1998 and 2004 he worked as an assistant professor in the Department of Economics at ITAM, a university in Mexico City. Maurer also worked at an NGO dedicated to helping small rural communities in Chiapas find new business opportunities for their inhabitants.  He joined the Business School faculty in 2004.

Maurer’s primary research interest is on how governments protect (or fail to protect) property rights and how do private actors defend their property rights against predatory governments or in the face of political instability? Maurer’s first two books, The Power and the Money and The Politics of Property Rights (the second co-authored with Stephen Haber and Armando Razo) examined how Mexican politicians and private actors created mechanisms that enabled investors to protect their property rights by transferring rents to third parties upon whom the government depended for political support. If those rents were interrupted, then the third parties would withdraw their support, and the government would risk collapse. These arrangements allowed Mexico’s economy to grow substantially despite a revolution, a counter-revolution, a counter-counter-revolution, two military coups, three coup attempts, three civil wars, and two presidential assassinations.  Maurer’s third book, Mexico Since 1980 (co-authored with Herb Klein, Kevin Middlebrook and Stephen Haber) asked why Mexico’s authoritarian government collapsed in the 1980s and 1990s.  It also asks how Mexico’s transition to democracy affected the business environment.  What did democracy change and what did it not? 

He is currently researching the history of the U.S. government's attempts to protect American investors when they venture outside the United States.  He is also working on further developing a course on the politics and economics of the energy business.

  1. The Big Ditch

    On August 15, 1914, the Panama Canal officially opened for business, forever changing the face of global trade and military power, as well as the role of the United States on the world stage. The Canal's creation is often seen as an example of U.S. triumphalism, but Noel Maurer and Carlos Yu reveal a more complex story. Examining the Canal's influence on Panama, the United States, and the world, The Big Ditch deftly chronicles the economic and political history of the Canal, from Spain's earliest proposals in 1529 through the final handover of the Canal to Panama on December 31, 1999, to the present day.

    The authors show that the Canal produced great economic dividends for the first quarter-century following its opening, despite massive cost overruns and delays. Relying on geographical advantage and military might, the United States captured most of these benefits. By the 1970s, however, when the Carter administration negotiated the eventual turnover of the Canal back to Panama, the strategic and economic value of the Canal had disappeared. And yet, contrary to skeptics who believed it was impossible for a fledgling nation plagued by corruption to manage the Canal, when the Panamanians finally had control, they switched the Canal from a public utility to a for-profit corporation, ultimately running it better than their northern patrons.

    A remarkable tale, The Big Ditch offers vital lessons about the impact of large-scale infrastructure projects, American overseas interventions on institutional development, and the ability of governments to run companies effectively.

    Noel Maurer is associate professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. His books includeThe Power and the Money, The Politics of Property Rights, and Mexico since 1980Carlos Yu is an economic historian and private consultant based in New York City.

  2. Mexico Since 1980

    This book addresses two questions that are crucial to understanding Mexico’s current economic and political challenges. Why did the opening up of the economy to foreign trade and investment not result in sustained economic growth? Why has electoral democracy not produced rule of law? The answer to those questions lies in the ways in which Mexico’s long history with authoritarian government shaped its judicial, taxation, and property rights institutions. These institutions, the authors argue, cannot be reformed with the stroke of a pen. Moreover, they represent powerful constraints on the ability of the Mexican government to fund welfare-enhancing reforms, on the ability of firms and households to write contracts, and on the ability of citizens to enforce their basic rights.