This week, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 2019 to Abhijit Banerjee (MIT), Esther Duflo (MIT) and Michael Kremer (Harvard) for their work to alleviate poverty. All three laureates were recognised for pioneering an approach to obtaining reliable answers to fight poverty across the globe. Esther Duflo is the youngest ever laureate, and the second woman to win after Elinor Ostrom a decade ago.
News of the prize was received with great enthusiasm here in Maastricht. We spoke to several academics with expertise in the field of development economics to hear their initial thoughts.
"I think that it is about time that we recognise economists who have been doing work on the ground. The fact that the prize was awarded to an experimental approach to tackle poverty is an inspiring new development that shows that the field of economics is changing and evolving.
"I am very familiar with the laureates’ work as I regularly use the resources from the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab for my Master’s class on poverty and inequality. I became personally very interested in Duflo’s work in particular after a lecture she gave in 2017 at the American Economists Association called the Economist as a Plumber. I thought to myself 'this woman gets the problem, and part of the solution is getting it', so I hope that today she and her colleagues’ work gets more recognition. It is urgently needed at this time in which we are living."
"I am particularly pleased that a woman, Esther Duflo, got the prize. I also liked that Esther Duflo made it very clear on social media that this prize is not only for her but also for all the research assistants, data collectors, interviewers, etc. that helped implement the experiments. This is easily forgotten. Chapeau!
"I was surprised by the type of research for which these three received the prize. The use of randomised field experiments to test policy interventions has become very fashionable in impact evaluation research; however, this approach can also be criticised as policy evaluation needs more than randomised trials. Evaluating existing policies requires alternative methods that should not be neglected. Moreover, there are ethical concerns about the experiments and questions about whether interventions tested and approved by field experiments will maintain the positive effects once implemented by national governments. The latter is what is needed to eventually reduce poverty in a given country."
"I think that the choice of the winners makes sense given the recent global push to achieve the sustainable development goals. It seems like the right time for a Nobel Prize in Economics focused on development.
"When I heard the prize was won by a woman, I didn’t think much of it. For me, it is normal that a woman would be good enough to win the prize. Of course, it is true that historically we have not seen many prizes in Economics go to women so I do think Duflo will serve as a role model. However, I do hope that in the future, there will be less focus on the fact that one of the prize winners is a woman because this will just be normal."
"I think that the award is a well-deserved recognition for the field of development economics. I was not surprised that these three scholars were awarded the prize: they really changed the way we now think about evaluating the effectiveness of development (policy) interventions.
"My own work is very much inspired by the work of Duflo, Banerjee and Kremer - I’m involved in various randomised control trials in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia as well as other smaller field experiments that help us better understand how people make decisions under various constraints. I also teach a course on programme and policy evaluation in which students learn about experimental and quasi-experimental methods and their application to relevant policy interventions."