Dirk Philipsen
Associate Research Professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy

Dirk Philipsen is an economic historian and political economist at the Sanford School of Public Policy and the Department of History.  He also serves as Senior Fellow at the Kenan Institute for Ethics, and director of both the Regenerative Futures Lab and the Build a Better World Focus program at Duke University. His work and teaching is focused on underlying structural requirements for wellbeing of people and planet.  His research includes economic metrics, the history of capitalism, the role of private property, and the promises of a revitalized commons. 

Raised in Germany and educated in both Germany and the United States, he received a BA in economics (College for Economics, Berlin, 1982), an MA in American Studies (John F. Kennedy Institute, Free University Berlin, 1987), and a Ph.D in American Social and Economic History (Duke University, 1992). He has taught at Duke University, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Virginia State University. For ten years, he served as Director of the Institute for the Study of Race Relations at Virginia State University, which he founded in 1997. 


Dirk Philipsen has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Andrew Mellon Foundation, the Franklin Humanities Center at Duke, and the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. He has published on the history of modern capitalism, economic growth, the commons, movements for social and economic justice, as well as race and race relations. His first book, We Were the People, chronicles the collapse of communism in East Germany and was published by Duke University Press. Recently, he served as editor and contributor to a volume on Green Business, published by SAGE. His latest work is published by Princeton University Press under the title The Little Big Number – How GDP Came to Rule the World, And What to Do About It (Spring 2015.)

Current Research Interests

  • Economic growth - nature, logic, systemic imperative, consequences
  •  long-term sustainability, property, and the commons

Office Hours

Sanford School of Public Policy
Sanford Bldg, Room 114

Mo: 3:30 to 5:00
T/Th: 1:30 to 3:00

Current Appointments & Affiliations

Contact Information

  • Box 90245, Durham, NC 27708
  • Sanford School of Public Policy, 201 Science Dr (Room 114), Durham, NC 27708

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