Saturday, January 3, 2009

Perfecting Economics at the Village Level

Are you interested in Esther Duflo, an economist at MIT, recently received an honorable mention in an Economist article on young economists. Duflo's work has focused on moving development economics away from concentrating solely on policies, but instead to approach the discipline through field work at the community level. She and her colleagues conduct randomized trials of development projects and are often surprised by many of their findings.
In one study, Ms. Duflo and her colleagues showed that mothers in the Indian state of Rajasthan are three times as more likely to have their children vaccinated if they are rewarded with a kilogram of daal (lentils) at the immunisation camp. The result is useful to aid workers, but puzzling to economists: why should such a modest incentive (worth less than 50 cents) make such a big difference? Immunisation can save a child's life; a bag of lentils should not sway the mother's decision either way.
While many economists are skeptical of Duflo's methods, saying that there is no way to show why the project yielded such results, only that it on fact happened. This results-focused approached to economics would, however, be extremely helpful to our future projects in Rajasthan. Here is a listing of several of Ms. Duflo's most recent papers.

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