The 2019 Nobel Prize in Economics has just been announced, which has fallen to Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer (researchers at MIT and Harvard) for their “experimental approach to poverty alleviation .” The academy thus recognizes its contribution on the ground to the advances of the economy of developing countries, with practical applications and not only with theoretical models.
The empirical work of the winners, based on breaking down the generic problem of poverty into more concrete problems to which to be able to apply solutions whose effectiveness can be more easily measured, has served to achieve such important achievements as improving the educational level or the rates of vaccination in the places where they have developed their experiments (mainly Kenya or India).
Crucially, the work of Banerjee, Duflo, and Kremer does not focus on inequality or redistribution, as often happens in the field of development economics, but rather on the root causes of poverty and the concrete actions that can mitigate it in the communities that suffer it. It is precisely this scientific approach to poverty, far from ideology, that has earned them the prize.
Who are Banerjee, Duflo, and Kremer?
Among the three winners, the first profile that stands out is that of the French Esther Duflo, for being the youngest person to have won the award throughout its history (exceeding in that honor nothing less than the famous Kenneth Arrow, who held it since 1972). Duflo is also the second woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economics, just a decade after Elinor Ostrom did. He began his research career in the former USSR in the 1990s and worked at MIT since 2002. In 2015 he received the Princess of Asturias award in the Social Sciences category.
«Our goal is to ensure that the fight against poverty is based on scientific evidence. Often the poor are reduced to cartoons and even those who try to help them do not understand the root causes that make them poor. We try to solve those problems as scientifically as possible.”
– Esther Duflo
Abhijit Banerjee, who emigrated to the United States to a doctorate at Harvard after having studied in India, is also a professor at MIT. Banerjee was the director of Duflo’s thesis and is also her husband, which makes them the sixth couple in history in which both members have won a Nobel. Between them, they wrote, “Poor Economics” (titled in Spanish “Rethink Poverty”), a worldwide best-seller who approached his work to the general public.
For his part, Michael Kremer made the reverse path to Banerjee and is currently a professor at Harvard after having gone through MIT. His research activity ranges from problems as concrete as the study of incentives to increase the rate of vaccinations to others as generic as the demographic transition of developing countries. It also carries out an intense philanthropic activity, leading or collaborating with multiple initiatives for the eradication of poverty.