- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: PublicAffairs; Reprint edition (March 27, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1610390938
- ISBN-13: 978-1610390934
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 222 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #29,001 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty Paperback – March 27, 2012
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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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
Financial Express, July, 2011
[Banerjee and Duflo] draw upon the latest literature in the domain, write simply and succinctly on complex issues, display a level of honesty and humility rare among economists, and take the help of many highly illustrative examples to help us understand poverty from many different angles. The overall message is unambiguous. This is a complex problem, the causes and symptoms of which vary highly between individual cases. The solutions? Well, they are rightly silent on that at best there is a murmur or two. Poverty is not a single problem so the solutions are too case-specific for a single solution This should be standard reading and essential material in all aid organisations and more so in the National Advisory Council, Planning Commission, Prime Minister's Office, and the various ministries all those who don't spend time understanding poverty in close vicinity.”
Development Policy (blog)
The persuasiveness of 'Poor Economics' lies in its authors' intellectual approach Moreover, it is well organised throughout and nicely written Poor Economics' is well worth reading in full.”
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
Business World (India) 7/30
Banerjee and Duflo assemble a fascinating assortment of interventions from across the globe in their book and they use the sharply differing perspectives of Sachs, who leads the supply wallahs” (this school believes in providing more schools, teachers, etc., to beat the education problem) and of Easterly who is a demand wallah” (no point in providing education needlessly) as a backdrop to make their own points on how to avoid the poverty trap. They offer five key lessons. First: the poor lack critical pieces of information and thus do not make right decisions; second: the poor bear responsibility for too many aspects of their lives; third: markets are missing for the poor; four: governments start policies without understanding the reality within which these are supposed to succeed; and five: negative expectations of what people can do can be self-fulfilling prophecies. Modest suggestions? Yes, but this is part of the charm of the book. It is engaging and informative which is more than can be said for many books of this genre.”
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 areathe 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 congratulatedand to be read.”
Business Day (South Africa)
An inspiring book full of insights and empathy that should be mandatory reading for policy makers and aid workers alike. It strips away preconceptions and offers a wealth of new perspectives. With passion, enthusiasm and a true spirit of scholarship they have tried to pin down the often very simple ways in which the lives of the poor can be improved through, for example, better access to healthcare, education, food and finance all vital to economic growth.”
Book Dwarf, February 14, 2011
They have a compelling argument that antipoverty programs can be effective if properly designed, and illustrate ways to test them to make sure they actually work. The writing style is accessible and engaging, but it's not dumbed down or over-simplified. The complexity of the subject means that this book is taking me longer to read than other books, but I've found the effort genuinely rewarding.”
Kirkus Review, April 15, 2011
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.”
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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.
The third school of thought is the corruption school, represented by Acemoglu and Robinson, as expounded in the book Why Nations Fail. According to this theory, countries remain poor because their governments are predatory, exploiting the citizenry by refusing to make investments in productive infrastructure, by direction all profits to cronies, and by permitting rampant corruption that renders creative entrepreneurship unprofitable. According to this school, to which I admit to being very favorable, the supply wallahs are wrong because the resources throw into the system will be appropriate by the rich and powerful, and the demand wallahs are wrong because the poor are actively maintained by the oligarchy in their position of servitude.
The authors are very insightful and balanced in presenting the views of these three schools and the evidence that supports these various positions. They also clearly explain their mutual critiques. For instance, the supply wallahs claim that states are predatory and corruption is rampant only because the country is so poor, and the demand wallahs claim that when the people want to move out of poverty, they will reform their governments. I find these defenses of supply and demand wallahs rather tendentious, leaving the corruptions school as the overall most plausible school.
I think it is fair to say that Banerjee and Duflo have little sympathy for demand and supply wallahs, but considerable respect for the corruption theory. Their own position is that there are virtually always ways to productively intervene to pull a significant fraction of people out of poverty. The authors, who have collected huge amounts of data and interviewed many poor people from around the world, make the following argument.
Most important, the poor in a poor country have about the same array of preferences and capacities as that of the human population as a whole, and humans are substantively rational in making decisions that affect their lives. However, the poor have a lot fewer resources than the well-off, they lack information and skills provided to the well-off, and lack access to such public goods as clean water and consumables subject to food and drug regulations.
The poor are therefore extremely heterogeneous. Microfinance organizations like the Grameen Bank therefore provide a general path to affluences, simply because only a fraction of the population has the will and ability to be successful entrepreneurs. On the other hand, entrepreneurs often fail several times before finally becoming successful, so the authors advise an expanded microfinance industry that is more tolerant of the sorts of behaviors that may involve short-term losses, but lead to long-run successes. The authors conclude that we must consider microfinance policies as extremely successful and worthy of following, even though it is not panacea for the abolition of poverty.
Because the poor lack access to social services freely available to the non-poor, the authors advocate such measures as providing clean water to poor villages and adding nutrients, such as iron, to staple foods. This, they argue, is not charity but simply the extension to poor of services already supplied to the rest of society.
Concerning education, the authors believe that poor parents are usually very eager to have their children educated, although they may lack the means of enrolling their children in schools or providing for their transportation to and from school. However, too often the content of schooling is determined by what is good for the more affluent classes, so poor children are led voluntarily to quit school. The authors advise that the content of education take into account the preferences and culture of the target population.
I cannot do justice to the beauty and intricacy of the argument developed in this book. The authors' main point is that we must look closely at the details of the lives of the poor in order to develop policies to help people to pull themselves out of poverty. This is neither demand or supply wallah-ism, and as they repeatedly stress, real progress can be made even in a society whose government provides a poor environment for economic development.
Prior to this book, I held a number of beliefs that I simply assumed were common sense. For example, I had assumed that if you offered free food to someone who is consuming barely enough calories to survive that the overall amount of calories they consume would increase. Apparently this is not the case-- if you give them free rice, they will take the money they used to spend on rice and instead spend it on more expensive, unhealthier food (or worse yet, something like tobacco). Thus, even if everyone in developed countries purchased food and gave it to the people in poorer nations this would not solve world hunger.
In chapter after chapter the authors bring up an issue faced by the world's poor, offer up the existing theories about the problem, point to research that sheds light on why the theories or current efforts fail to address the problem, and suggest solutions that we have reason to believe would work based on the findings of various research studies. The issues faced by the poor are wide-ranging and the authors do an excellent job trying to cover them all. Here are the main issues covered (a full chapter is devoted to each one):
1. Hunger (why poor people are not getting enough calories)
2. Health (why poor people don't try harder to get their kids de-wormed, vaccinated, etc.)
3. Family size (why poor people choose to have large families even though it is difficult to support more children)
4. Education (why poor people don't invest in all of their kids' education)
5. Risk/insurance (why poor people incur so much risk yet aren't insuring themselves against it)
6. Borrowing/microfinance (why microfinance isn't going to solve poverty and why borrowing is still an issue for some)
7. Saving (why poor people aren't saving)
8. Entrepreneurship (why poor people aren't all the great "entrepreneurs" that microfinance makes them out to be)
9. Politics/institutions/corruption (why poor people can see improvements in their lives even with corrupt institutions)
Each chapter begins with a difficult question which might seem to have an intuitive answer but does not; then the authors point to the results of research studies that shed light on the answer proceed to explain why the problem has not been solved if we know why it is occurring. For example, the chapter on saving begins with the following question: can poor people actually save money? Many people would immediately answer "of course not" simply based on the fact that the people we're talking about are poor. However, the authors provide convincing evidence that shows poor people are in fact capable of saving. This begs the question, if they can save, and it would be in their interest to do so (to provide a safety net for the enormous risk they face in their lives-- e.g., a family members becomes sick and can't work), then why don't they save? Are they simply lazy, short-sighted, and incompetent as we are told in the press? As you might imagine, the answer is not so simple (or condescending). Poor people don't save for a variety of reasons. First off, many of the world's poor don't have easy access to savings accounts. Banks are highly regulated and thus there is a significant cost involved in serving a client-- so why would a bank make an effort to cater to poor communities where they'll receive very little income from their customers to compensate for the costs they're incurring in offering banking services? Furthermore, it is easier for middle-class or wealthy people to save, not simply because they have more income but because the system makes it incredibly simple: for example, many people work for an employer that sets up a 401k plan for them and offers to match funds and deduct funds from your paycheck without you having to do anything. Most of the world's poor do not have such a simple option for saving-- they must exercise willpower week after week to overcome the temptation to spend (which we all have, poor or not), whereas the rest of us can just tell an employer once that we want to contribute to our 401k plan and that's the end of it. The authors even told stories of women who were taking out a loan at 24% interest and then saving the money in an account that only paid 4% interest. This seems incredibly foolish, so the authors inquired as to the women's motivations. It turns out they were doing this because this would force them to save-- having to repay the repay the loan would act as a disciplining mechanism. Essentially they were trying to force themselves to save because they didn't have a 401k account that would just automatically withdraw the money. They face the same temptations that we all do, they just don't have an easy means of overcoming them.
But the authors don't simply point out problems and throw up their hands in desperation-- they offer concrete solutions to each problem. Not all the solutions are equally convincing and the authors are the first to admit there is no "magic bullet" but they go a long way toward providing a framework for how we might think about solving global poverty in the next one hundred years. For example, in the chapter that deals with the enormous amount of risk the poor face (due to crop failures, health problems, etc.) they ask why the poor don't simply obtain insurance. The answer is complicated and has to do with moral hazard, adverse selection, and fraud, the combination of which has made it difficult for a "market" in microinsurance to develop in the same way we've had an innovation in microfinance. Thus, the authors suggest that governments step in and help create such a market by providing subsidies for insurance premiums. Before you throw up your hands and yell "that's socialism!" bear in mind that they cite previous instances of such subsidies and how they led to dramatic increases in the number of poor people who were insured.
There is no easy way to solve global poverty, as the world's poor face a number of problems that seem intractable. Yet when we examine each of these problems by looking at how the poor actually behave and how they respond to incentives, we can begin to develop a framework for how we might solve each of these problems and reach a point where poverty is a thing of the past. But before we can do anything to eradicate poverty, we need to understand why it exists, why it is self-perpetuating, and what can be done to stop it. This is the function of this book, and it excels on all fronts.