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Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty Paperback – March 27, 2012


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Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty + Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty + The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; Reprint edition (March 27, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781610390934
  • ISBN-13: 978-1610390934
  • ASIN: 1610390938
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (151 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,921 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

Amartya Sen
“A marvellously insightful book by two outstanding researchers on the real nature of poverty.”

Steven D. Levitt
“This book is a must-read for anyone who cares about world poverty.  It has been years since I read a book that taught me so much. ‘Poor Economics’ represents the best that economics has to offer.”
 
Robert Solow
“Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo are allergic to grand generalizations about the secret of economic development. Instead they appeal to many local observations and experiments to explore how poor people in poor countries actually cope with their poverty: what they know, what they seem (or don't seem) to want, what they expect of themselves and others, and how they make the choices that they can make. Apparently there are plenty of small but meaningful victories to be won, some through private and some through public action, that together could add up to a large gains for the world's poor, and might even start a ball rolling. I was fascinated and convinced.”
 
The Guardian, April 11, 2011
“[Banerjee and Duflo] offer a refreshingly original take on development, and they are very aware of how they are bringing an entirely new perspective into a subject dominated by big polemics from the likes of Jeffrey Sachs and William Easterly… they are clearly very clever economists and are doing a grand job to enrich their discipline's grasp of complex issues of poverty – so often misunderstood by people who have never been poor.”
 
The Economist, April 22, 2011
“In an engrossing new book they draw on some intrepid research and a store of personal anecdotes to illuminate the lives of the 865m people who, at the last count, live on less than $0.99 a day.”

The Economist’s Free Exchange Blog, April 21, 2011
“Let me recommend it… Poor Economics is more than just a compendium of the randomistas' greatest hits. For one thing, it contains some well-observed reporting.”
 
The Economist’s Free Exchange, April 21, 2011
“To cut to the chase: this is the best book about the lives of the poor that I have read for a very, very long time. The research is wide-ranging. Much of it is new. Above all, Banerjee and Duflo take the poorest billion people as they find them. There is no wishful thinking. The attitude is straightforward and honest, occasionally painfully so. And some of the conclusions are surprising, even disconcerting.”
 
The New York Times, May 19, 2011
“Randomized trials are the hottest thing in the fight against poverty, and two excellent new books have just come out by leaders in the field. One is “Poor Economics,” by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo… These terrific books move the debate to the crucial question: What kind of aid works best?”

Forbes.com, April 25, 2011
“a compelling and important read… an honest and readable account about the poor that stands a chance of actually yielding results.”
 
Philanthropy Action, April 25, 2011
“Banerjee and Duflo write exceptionally well, and given that there are two of them, the voice is surprisingly singular. But the real surprise in this book is its humility. Both the authors and the material they pull from are truly formidable, yet Banerjee and Duflo are not really out to make a hard pitch, least of all to die-hard Big Idealists who disagree with them. As such, there is nothing directly confrontational about Poor Economics. They are peeling the onion, not hacking it to pieces.”
 
The Guardian, May 18, 2011
“Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo's book, Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty, is making waves in development circles. Beyond the strong focus on randomised control trials, the book distinguishes itself by wading into issues on which the development community has often ignored or made uninformed guesses. These include the rationale behind the decisions made by the poor, whether they make the "best" decisions available, and how policymakers should respond.”
 
Matthew Yglesias, May 7, 2011
“Esther Duflo won the John Bates Clark medal last year for her work on development economics, so I was excited to read her new book with Abhijit Banerjee Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty. It’s a good book. It doesn’t really contain a radical rethinking of the way to fight global poverty, but it does try to cut past lame debates over whether or not foreign aid “works” to instead attempt to find ways to actually assess which programs are working, which aren’t, and how to improve those that don’t.”
 
The Wall Street Journal, April 30, 2011
“Marvelous, rewarding…’More Than Good Intentions’ and ‘Poor Economics’ are marked by their deep appreciation of the precariousness that colors the lives of poor people as they tiptoe along the margin of survival. But I would give an edge to Mr. Banerjee and Ms. Duflo in this area—the sheer detail and warm sympathy on display reflects a true appreciation of the challenges their subjects face… They have fought to establish a beachhead of honesty and rigor about evidence, evaluation and complexity in an aid world that would prefer to stick to glossy brochures and celebrity photo-ops. For this they deserve to be congratulated—and to be read.”

Financial Times, April 30, 2011
“The ingenuity of these experiments aside, it is the rich and humane portrayal of the lives of the very poor that most impresses. Both books show how those in poverty make sophisticated calculations in the grimmest of circumstances… Books such as these offer a better path forward. They are surely an experiment worth pursuing.”
 
Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 2, 2011
“Here's something Jesus might recommend: Reading the clear, calm and revelatory book "Poor Economics," from Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo. It is gloriously instructive, and bracing testimony in itself to the gold standard of the Enlightenment: the scientific method. The authors, both economists at MIT, spent 15 years in the field, running randomized controlled trials to test various approaches to combating poverty. They bring both rigor and humility to a predicament typically riven by ideology and blowhards.”

Financial World (UK),June 2011
“A remarkable work: incisive, scientific, compelling and very accessible, a must-read for advocates and opponents of international aid alike, for interested laymen and dedicated academics… Amartya Sen, fellow Nobel Prize winner Robert Solow and superstar economics author Steven Levitt wholeheartedly endorse this book. I urge you to read it. It will help shape the debate in development economics.”

Fast Company, June 15, 2011
“Fascinating and captivating. Their work reads like a version of Freakonomics for the poor. There are insights into fighting global poverty from the remarkable and vital perspective of those whom we profess to serve…They remind us, I think, of our shared humanity and how at some fundamental levels we really do think alike.”
 
IndianExpress.com, June 18, 2011
“This is a welcome shift in methodology as it implicitly concedes the need to combine social science with hard economics.”
 
Outlook India, June 25, 2011
“It vividly, sensitively and rigorously brings alive the dilemmas of the poor as economic agents in a variety of contexts, whether as consumers or risk-takers. There are splendid chapters on a variety of topics that affect the poor: food, health, education, savings, micro-credit, insurance, risk and even some cursory observations on political behaviour.”
 
Reilly Media, “Radar” blog, June 27, 2011
 “This is possibly the best thing I will read all year, an insightful (and research-backed) book digging into the economics of poverty... Love that the website is so very complementary to the book, and 100% aligned with the ambition to convince and spread the word.”

Publishers Weekly (online), May 2011
“Their empirical approach differs from policy discussions that base support or criticism of aid programs on a broad overview; instead they illuminate many practicable and cost-effective ways to keep children and parents living healthier and more productive lives. An important perspective on fighting poverty.”

The Guardian, June 6, 2011
“Duflo and Banerjee tell these stories (of their randomised control trials) in a lovely new book called Poor Economics. As they admit, randomistas cannot answer some big questions – how to tackle food prices, for instance. But through lots of microstudies, they make a subtle case for one big argument: aid really can help poor people, provided the money follows the evidence.”
 
Vancouver Sun, June 11, 2011
“This new book by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo eschews the ideology of both the right and the left, and focuses on what measurable evidence has to say about the often-conflicting myths that dominate discussion of international development.  The book is unusual, perhaps unique, in that the authors took a lot of time to talk to poor people about what they think and what they want.”
 
Seth Godin (blog),June 15, 2011

“Fact-based, actionable and totally unforgettable insights on the fight to help the poor help themselves.”
 

About the Author

Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee is the Ford Foundation International Professor of Economics at MIT. He is the recipient of many honors and awards, including most recently the inaugural Infosys Prize in 2009, and has been an honorary advisor to many organizations including the World Bank and the Government of India.
 
Esther Duflo is the Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics at MIT. She is a recipient of the MacArthur “genius” award (2009) and the John Bates Clark medal awarded annually to the best American economist under forty (2012). In 2003, Banerjee and Duflo cofounded the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), which they continue to direct.

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Customer Reviews

Very well thought out and easy to read book.
Nova74
Rather than choosing a side, and presenting some very general arguments in support, the authors of this book decided to do something radical.
Brian C.
I had the opportunity to read this book Poor Economics by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo.
Badrinarayanan Ravendran

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

92 of 94 people found the following review helpful By Herbert Gintis on July 13, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The authors identify three major approaches to dealing with world poverty, suggest that whatever their virtues and faults, there is a very piecemeal and pragmatic approach through which significant gains can be made without addressing the systemic obstacles identified by the three approaches. Their analysis is brilliant, focused, rooted in first-rate data sets, yet rich in social detail and anecdotal vignettes. I believe there are probably right, and their approach deserves to be widely studied an evaluated by policy makers in the advanced and developing countries.

The dominant school of thought is probably the supply-side theory, most visibly represented by Jeffrey Sachs (the authors call him a "supply wallah"). According to this theory, the poor are poor because they lack money and resources, and there is a "poverty trap" such that investment in productive technologies must be very large in order to have a positive and sustainable effect. Because poor individuals, and even poor countries, lack the capacity to finance such investments, they are trapped in a low-level economic equilibrium. For this reason, Sachs and the supply theorists advise that the rich countries transfer a large lump-sum amount of money to a poor country, so it can get over the poverty-trap hump.

A second salient school of thought is the demand-side theory, represented by William Easterly and many others. Demand-siders (the authors call them "demand wallahs") believes that the poor are poor because they do not want to undertake what would be necessary to move out of poverty and there is no poverty trap. Thus, if you throw money and resources to the poor, they consume it immediately rather than using it for long-term betterment.
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158 of 170 people found the following review helpful By AdamSmythe on April 15, 2011
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Although I am an economist by training and have studied economics for many years, I admit that in reading this book I have learned a great deal about the complexities of both the theory and the practice of anti-poverty policies in developing nations.

Why are people so interested in the issue of global poverty? Well, to list a few of the many aspects about poverty addressed in this book, every year about 9 million children die before they reach their fifth birthday, usually in the poorest countries. In the developed world, a woman has a one-in-5,000 chance of dying while giving birth, but in many sub-Saharan Africa countries the odds are one-in-30. There are at least 25 countries in the world with life expectancies of 55 years or less. If these sorts of situations capture your mind and lead it to ask what can be done, one of the first things you might consider doing is learning more about the conditions and circumstances that lead to these revealing statistics. That's where this book comes in.

So, is this book one you should buy? Presumably that's why you are reading this. Here are a few observations that may help you decide whether to buy this fine book: In the authors' own words, the book "is ultimately about what the lives and choices of the poor tell us about how to fight global poverty." That may not sound too sexy or exciting, but if you have an interest in facts, theories and observations about global poverty, then this is your book. On the other hand, if what you seek are simple theories and, especially, strong advocacy of a few preferred solutions, then you are probably barking up the wrong tree. Don't get me wrong; I like the book just as it is. There is so much information to consider and so many approaches to fighting poverty to contemplate.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Felix De Rosen on May 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Development economics is a comparatively new field of study and it has changed considerably in its roughly fifty years of existence. "Poor Economics" represents a significant change, namely a move away from the sweeping generalizations of scholars such as Jeffrey Sachs and William Easterly, and a realization that we actually understand very little in development economics. The proof of our lack of understanding can be found in our lack of success in actually bringing about wealth in the developing world (either that or a hidden lack of intent).
In any case, Banerjee and Duflo start with the premise that, given the inaccuracy of past models, the best we can do is start on a micro level and see what works. They do this through randomized control trials (RCTs), in which groups are subjected to different treatments, such as subsidies for food, education campaigns, or reorganization of village committees. The groups are randomized, with some groups receiving the treatment (experiment group) and others not receiving anything (control group).
Using the results from numerous RCTs around the world, as well as hundreds of other experiments, surveys, case studies and more, "Poor Economics" is incredibly well researched. One thing the authors don't justify, however, is whether RCTs are good predictors of real life choices. For example, how similar are the treatments used in RCTs to the actual policies implemented in real life?
I won't summarize the contents of the book. But I can say that the conclusions within are indeed "radical" in the sense that they take very little for granted. They are based off of micro level data and offer very interesting insight into the incentives that shape the lives of the poor.
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