发信人: ducklings (Wait and Hope), 信区: Economics
标 题: One article about Development Economics
发信站: The unknown SPACE (Tue Aug 20 15:43:30 2002) WWW-POST
One professor in our dept. assume I will be interested and I assume some
people in this board will be interested......Some of you might also recall
what happened in the board weeks ago.
Small-Picture Approach to a Big Problem: Poverty
August 20, 2002
By DANIEL ALTMAN
Though rich countries may be able to rescue middle-class
economies like those of Uruguay and Brazil from crises
simply by lending them billions of dollars, attacking the
problems of the poorest countries is not so easy. Putting
aside old, one-size-fits-all approaches to development, a
new school of thought emphasizes more specific grass-roots
A cadre of young economists who study development,
including some of the most sought-after professors in the
nation, are dissatisfied with supposed panaceas like
balanced budgets, new infrastructure and financial
stability. These economists are using basic insights about
people's motivations and the flow of information to guide
policy in emerging economies, one piece and one country at
Esther Duflo, an associate professor at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, epitomizes the new development
economics with her broad use of theoretical and statistical
tools and her willingness to conduct research in the field.
Ms. Duflo, whose work has placed her among the year's top
picks for lifetime tenured positions, says she ultimately
wants to find out why the world's poorest people almost
always stay poor. That quest has led her to ask how
governments and outside organizations can best help the
citizens of poor countries, and why information and
technology that can promote economic advancement spread
less quickly in some settings than in others.
Old-line development economists often assumed that all
people would follow textbook theories and that lessons
learned in rich countries would stay true anywhere. Yet
according to Ms. Duflo, "the level of discrepancy between
what people do and what we as economists think they should
do can be pretty substantial."
Ms. Duflo has studied the growth of the software industry
in India, school construction in Indonesia, pensions in
South Africa and household accounting in Ivory Coast. Her
current research, conducted jointly with Michael R. Kremer
of Harvard, has found, for example, that the use of
fertilizer for growing maize in Kenya takes hold quickly
among farmers who see demonstrations but that those farmers
rarely share their new knowledge with others.
In the past, economists might have missed important
discoveries like this by concentrating solely on the big
picture. The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank
and other teams of economic advisers often took the same
message wherever they went, preaching the necessity of
programs meant to clamp down on fiscal waste, stop
inflation and improve foreign trade and investment.
Over the last half-century, these policies helped Chile,
India, Israel and Mexico to stabilize their currencies and
lay the groundwork for growth. Yet in Africa, the former
Soviet bloc, many parts of Southeast Asia and Latin
America, there is little to show for all the
well-intentioned advice. Put simply, the same policies have
not worked in every setting.
"To some extent the field has been driven by abandoning
big-picture paradigms," Timothy J. Besley, director of the
Suntory- Toyota International Centers for Economics and
Related Disciplines at the London School of Economics, said
in a recent e-mail message. "The problems are different
country to country and even region to region within
countries. These big-picture efforts are good for giving us
inspiration, but probably not much good in making concrete
progress within particular countries."
Though they do not entirely reject the macroeconomic
policies of the old school, the new-style economists have
begun to focus on smaller initiatives in public health,
agriculture and education. Finding successes among these
programs could yield lessons for broader policies.
"I see my job as trying to uncover little pieces of
knowledge that can help us define policy for development,"
Ms. Duflo said.
Mr. Kremer, who is among the favorites to win the 2003 John
Bates Clark Medal as the best American economist under 40,
agreed. Now, he said, "it's less trying to find the magic
Even the World Bank has lately focused more attention on
the most basic problems of poor countries, like public
The shift from promoting bulky, all-encompassing models to
building simple truths from fieldwork and the theory of
incentives has come late to development economics. Similar
movements took hold a decade or two ago in labor economics
and public finance.
"The field of development was for a while split off from
mainstream economics," Mr. Kremer said, "and so people in
development weren't always using the most modern tools,
either theoretically or empirically." With increasing
rigor, he said, the field entered the mainstream and began
to attract the best students.
After pioneers like Angus S. Deaton, who teaches at
Princeton, came a wave of younger professors, often with
hands-on experience in the field, who began to search for
specific programs and strategies that did work. Even as
junior faculty members themselves, professors including Mr.
Kremer, Abhijit Banerjee of M.I.T. and Christopher R. Udry
of Yale became mentors and collaborators for Ms. Duflo's
generation of development economists. They set an example
by conducting fieldwork on links among health, education,
local politics and productivity in places like Kenya, India
Before Ms. Duflo rose to prominence, Mr. Banerjee said,
"the data were there, the theory was there, and some of the
tools were there, but there wasn't anybody who was on top
of all of them."
"It's the bundle that's really impressive," he said. "She
goes for big questions always."
A decade ago, Ms. Duflo was a history student at the 蒫ole
Normale Sup閞ieure, a top college in France. She was
interested in the problems of developing countries and
spent some time working in Madagascar. While carrying out
research in Moscow and planning a move into politics, Ms.
Duflo met Thomas Piketty, another graduate of the 蒫ole
Normale and an economics professor at M.I.T. at the time.
He told her of the opportunities for research in economics
in the United States and the string of graduates from the
蒫ole Normale who had pursued them.
"I had no clue this whole setup existed," she said. "I was
interested in development before I was interested in
Ms. Duflo decided to switch to economics and completed a
master's degree at Delta, an economics research center
affiliated with the 蒫ole Normale. For graduate school, she
went to M.I.T., where she took courses from Mr. Banerjee
and Mr. Kremer. M.I.T., which almost never hires its own
doctoral graduates, offered her the chance to stay on as an
Now, Ms. Duflo has offers of tenure from Princeton and
Yale, as well as M.I.T. Mr. Banerjee said Ms. Duflo's
popularity had to do with the renaissance in their field as
well as her own abilities. "After many years, all the
departments are looking for people in development
economics," he said. "The field has become more visible,"
and students want to specialize in it.
Ben S. Bernanke, who was chairman of the economics
department at Princeton before his appointment to the
Federal Reserve Board early this month, said his department
had been recruiting Ms. Duflo to expand its development
offerings. Ms. Duflo spent last year at Princeton as a
visiting professor and said it had been refreshing to spend
time outside M.I.T.
Mr. Bernanke lauded Ms. Duflo's prodigious publishing in
academic journals, an achievement that Mr. Banerjee
attributed to her exceptional energy. That trait seems to
characterize many young development economists, who often
spend their summers working in Africa and Asia. "I don't
sit in a room much," Ms. Duflo said. "You cannot do
development without spending time in developing countries."
Other hot prospects in economics besides Ms. Duflo also
dabble in development. Sendhil Mullainathan, another
associate professor at M.I.T., has garnered interest from
other institutions. Marianne Bertrand, who teaches at the
University of Chicago, was offered a position at M.I.T.
while she was teaching at Princeton. The three have
collaborated on papers and could be seen sitting together,
whispering and joking, during presentations at a labor
studies conference by the National Bureau of Economic
Research last month in Cambridge, Mass.
Not every leading economics department is eager to hire a
development economist like Ms. Duflo, however. Stanford,
for instance, has expressed little interest.
The reason, said Ilya R. Segal, a professor at Stanford who
trained as a theoretician at M.I.T., stems from a
long-running schism between two stereotypical schools of
empirical, or applied, economics: one that favors
data-intensive studies with only cursory theoretical models
and another that insists on rigorous theoretical
underpinnings for all assumptions. The data-intensive type
is often attributed to Harvard and M.I.T., and the
theoretical type is usually associated with Stanford, the
University of Chicago and a handful of other prestigious
universities in the Midwest known in academia as
"The style of applied economics on the East Coast and at
the London School of Economics tends to care very little
about methods per se - it is very eclectic," Mr. Besley
said. "Perhaps the freshwater approach has a more definite
sense of the `right way to do economics.' " He added that
Robert M. Townsend, a senior professor at Chicago, had done
some valuable research in Thailand.
Ms. Duflo's work is "more the Cambridge style," Mr. Segal
said. "People who do this kind of empirical work are very
unlikely to get an offer from us." Even many senior faculty
members at M.I.T., he said, would probably not get jobs at
Ms. Duflo might disagree. "Development is a set of
questions," she said. "It's not really defined by
Yet Mr. Banerjee conceded that the schism had led to
criticisms of work produced by him and his colleagues.
"It's very easy to paint yourself into corners," he said.
"You know that your answers are being rated relative to the
assumptions you make. You take your hits on that."
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