Economists as anthropologists

…In fact, the most powerful moments in the book are almost touchingly old-fashioned. In the chapter on education, there is a poignant moment that tells you more about the ways in which our education system fails the poor than any randomised trial would. This is the moment where one of their interlocutors uses the phrase “children from homes like ours..,” highlighting a persistent problem of treating the poor as another species. Banerjee and Dufflo indict the system for its low expectations of what poor students can accomplish; these low expectations constitute the poverty trap the poor are trying to escape. Non-economists may have an interest in exaggerating this aspect. But the qualities of research that stand out most vividly in this book are not the randomised trials, but the richness with which Dufflo and Banerjee bring the poor into the conversation. We are grateful to randomised trials because they have turned economists into first-rate anthropologists.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta on Poor Economics. For more, see Ed Carr

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