Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, the economist couple who shared the 2019 Nobel Prize in Economics with Michael Kremer for their “experimental approach to alleviating global poverty”, will be guests at the Express Adda in Mumbai on Monday.
Kolkata-born Banerjee, 58, and Paris-born Duflo, 46, both professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), were awarded the Nobel for their groundbreaking work in development economics that has provided insights into problems of poverty that governments across the world are engaged with today.
Over the last two decades, Sen and Duflo have worked with governments in Africa and Asia to carry out randomised control trials across social sectors such as health and education to validate the effectiveness of delivery systems. Despite criticism that their economics relies too heavily on RCTs, the duo, who founded the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) at the Department of Economics at the MIT in 2004, have been credited with using their experimental approach to understanding common, yet vexing, problems such as poverty or the fact that children go to school but don’t learn enough.
Among their many interventions in India was ‘Balsakhi’, a remedial teaching programme implemented in 122 primary schools in Vadodara and 77 schools in Mumbai. Between 2001 and 2004, Banerjee and Duflo, along with two other researchers, evaluated the Balsakhi programme in conjunction with NGO Pratham. Following their intervention, in both Vadodara and Mumbai, the children who were part of the Balsakhi programme recorded significantly improved test scores.
Their other interventions include experiments involving the installation of cameras in classrooms, and encouraging teachers with positive incentives. They have also worked with the Haryana government on improving immunisation rates in the state.
Banerjee has been vocal with his suggestions on how to revive the Indian economy, opposing any more cuts in corporate taxes and advocating the need to boost demand.
Banerjee, who studied at the University of Calcutta, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Harvard University, where he received his PhD in 1988, has also emphasised that the “economically backward cannot be treated as failures”.
Duflo, the youngest and only the second woman recipient of the Nobel for Economics since its inception in 1969, has in the past said that a country’s GDP growth rate is merely one indicator of well-being; “not the be-all and end-all”. Duflo has degrees in history and economics from École Normale Supérieure, Paris, and a PhD in Economics from MIT in 1999.
The couple have also voiced their concerns over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. In an oped in The Indian Express, they questioned the need to introduce “meddlesome officialdom into a question as fundamental to people’s lives as citizenship”.
At the first Express Adda of 2020, Banerjee and Duflo will be in conversation with Anant Goenka, Executive Director, The Indian Express Group, and Seema Chishti, Deputy Editor. The Express Adda is a series of informal interactions organised by The Indian Express Group and features those at the centre of change.