Monday, August 12, 2013

Rich economics: with real data

In a previous post What is wrong with this textbook? I made the disturbing observation that a popular introductory economics textbook did not contain any real data.

My son [an economics major] and I recently read Poor Economics: a radical rethinking of the way to fight global poverty by two MIT economists, by Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo.
The book is all based on real data. The book has a very impressive website. For each chapter it has the associated data and figures, and interactive tools to work with the data.
[n.b. how this transparency contrasts to the two Harvard economists who were reluctant to release the Excel spreadsheet they used in a controversial study about government debt].

The authors address questions such as

Why do the poor remain poor? Are they trapped?
What is the most effective way to help them?
Why do many well-intentioned aid programs fail?

The emphasis is on finding strategies that have actually been proven to work, rather than programs Western ideologues [both conservative and liberal] think should work. The authors are also very compassionate pointing out how many of the mistakes and bad choices that the poor make are not that different to those of us in the affluent West make. For example, we often make choices (e.g. lack of exercise and poor diet) that are not in our best long term interests, even though we know what is the best thing to do.

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