Prannoy Roy In Conversation With Nobel Laureates Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo

PUBLISHED ON: January 18, 2020 | Duration: 1 hr, 8 min, 29 sec

Prannoy Roy talks to the Nobel Laureates, Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee about their work in using economic theories to help poverty stricken areas deal with health related issues.

Here are the highlights of Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee's discussion with NDTV:

Abhijit Banerjee on traditional economics - "I guess one thing that I feel traditional economics did well to emphasize was the idea that before you question someone's rationality, think about how they think".

Esther Duflo on the J-PAL programme - "About 17 years ago we created a partnership which is really a network called J-PAL or the Jameel Poverty Action Lab, which now has an office in almost every continent. Well, not one in Antarctica yet!"

Esther Duflo on footprint of the J-PAL programme - "We have done studies in about 80 countries, but India is where we have done most of the studies. And where our office is the biggest. So we have about 200 permanent staff members. At any moment there are 1,000 people in the field directly collecting data. At this point I hope they're eating their meal and getting their sleep!"

Abhijit Banerjee on an analogy of economics with plumbing - "I think plumbing is a lot what economics should be about. Which is, here's a problem. The toilet is choked. It's smelling, what do you do about it? And there are a few things we can do, before we call the plumber. You can try them out. And that particular mindset of assuming that the problem is well defined, the toilet is choked, and it's solvable by a set of steps rather than by some philosophical gesture".

Esther Duflo on Randomised Controlled Experiment on impact of women as the head of panchayats - "I did this project with Raghabendra Chattopadhyay where we looked at the impact of having women as the head of the panchayat. And we had a nationwide randomised controlled experiment in front of us because which village was reserved to elect a woman was randomly assigned. So the first thing we had to do was fight with our field officers. Because they are saying "why are you wasting your time. These women are just puppets of their husbands. They're not talking. They're not doing anything. It can't make a difference. You should do some other project about something else that you would actually find something." And getting over that was our first fight with our own staff. Then we once had the first results, the purpose of this project was to show that these women actually do make a difference. They make different decisions. However shy and coy they might look like, but they are invested".

Abhijit Banerjee on microcredit - "People took microcredit. They bought refrigerators. They probably ate better or watched television. They didn't get richer. So the median person, the 90 per cent who got microcredit, you can say precisely that nothing happened to their earnings".

Abhijit Banerjee on hand-outs - "I hate the word hand-outs. I think, part of this ideology of treating people who are somehow not economically successful as moral failures, this is a Victorian ideology. I feel that's extremely costly. Because at some level the world is such an uncertain world. There's so much that happens to us that we have no control over. The Chinese export this, jobs go away. The exchange rate appreciates and jobs go away. Or new technologies have developed in America and jobs go away. All of that, how does one...why do we blame individuals for not succeeding in a world where most of what's happening to them are like slings and arrows of outrageous fortune".

Abhijit Banerjee on Citizenship Amendment Act protests - "I think, there's all kinds of issues there, I don't think it's my - I'm not a specialist there - let me say one thing which worries me from my experience doing field work - is that when you have somebody with an enormous amount of power - the guy who decides whether or not you will be on this list or that list - he has a lot of power and so if he's going to say look I'm not sure that you're a proper citizen. If I were somebody living in a border district, I'd be petrified by that thought and even if I were, you know just the fact that somebody will come and say look I'm in charge of making this list I could put 'doubtful' next to your name, I mean after all it is a border district - or I could not - and maybe you could pay me ten thousand rupees".

Abhijit Banerjee on finding resistance all the time - "No not really, often what we find which is also frustrating is they say, "yes, we don't have any time. We agree with you. We don't have time to do it, can you come and do it for us?" That's a little bit awkward because we are not really designed to move to Patna and live the rest of our life there. So it turns out, you know, difficult thing to pull off".
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