This article appeared in the October 15, 2019 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 10/15 edition

Ending poverty, one experiment at a time

Brian Snyder/Reuters
Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, two of the three winners of the 2019 Nobel Prize in economics, speak at news conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Oct. 14, 2019.
David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

In today’s edition, our five hand-picked stories cover Turkey’s quest to protect itself, shifting political values in Ohio, censorship in Russia, the relevance of biblical morality today, and the mind-set of Gen Xers.

First, jokes about economics are legion: “Why was astrology invented? So economics would seem like an accurate science.”

But the winners of the 2019 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences are changing that perception, one experiment at a time.

Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Michael Kremer of Harvard University won for “obtaining reliable answers about the best ways to fight global poverty.” Their work underscores a major shift in economics from ivory tower theories to street-level testing.

To help the poor, you have to start by jettisoning stereotypes. “Put away your preconceptions, and instead try and bring in a scientific and vigorous mindset. The key is to experiment,” Professor Duflo told the BBC. She is only the second woman to win the economics prize.

Big problems are broken into bite-sized questions. For example, if education is a path out of poverty, how do you get kids to stay in school? 

More schools? More teachers? Free school meals? Eliminate fees? Through a series of experiments in India and Africa, they found that simply telling parents about the benefits of education was 14 times more cost effective than free meals or hiring more teachers.

Over two decades, their approach of using randomized controlled trials has been applied to health care, microloans, gender equality, and crime reduction.

Economics is becoming a field that’s “humble, pragmatic, experimental and always tied to real people’s problems, especially those most in need,” writes Bloomberg columnist Noah Smith.

Share this article


This article appeared in the October 15, 2019 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 10/15 edition