Karp earned his Ph.D. in Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Davis, where his major fields were resource economics and econometrics. He taught at Texas A&M and Southampton University and joined the UC Berkeley ARE faculty in 1984.
Karp has made fundamental contributions by applying dynamic methods to the study of agricultural, resource, and environmental problems. He has also made substantial contributions to the fields of industrial organization and international trade and development. He has contributed extensively to both theoretical and empirical literature, maintaining a steady stream of top publications for over twenty years.