The poverty lab

I’ve been trying to catch up on my New Yorkers the past few days; I don’t love it’s elitism, but totally dig that it’s still publishing long form profiles and the like. The fact that I’m just getting to the May 17 edition should tell you something about my spring/summer. Anyway, forgive me for being way late to this party, but I wanted to make sure our community knew about the work of Esther Duflo, a professor of development economics. Ian Parker wrote a really fascinating profile of Duflo, the co-founder of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) at M.I.T., which runs field experiments that measure different ways to save the world. (Note: a subscription is required to read the entire digital edition.)

From Parker’s perspective, Duflo is a “left-of-center French intellectual with faith in redistribution.” From mine, she’s a woman in the male-dominated field of economics who insists on getting beyond the hype that so often surrounds international development and social entrepreneurship to look at what really works. She says, “I have one opinion–one should evaluate things–which is strongly held. I’m never unhappy with the results. I haven’t yet seen a result I didn’t like.”

That’s why when, for example, Duflo and her lab find that micro-lending is not all its cracked up to be, she’s not afraid to talk about those results even if she might offend the micro-lending evangelists through out the development world. I’ve been around the block too long to be a purist, myself, particularly when it comes to approaches to justice, but it’s really refreshing to hear about someone who takes such a sober, unbiased approach to evaluating whether the hype is warranted around some of our biggest trends in social change.

Check out Duplo’s TEDTalk:

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  • nazza

    I notice that simple solutions are often complicated by people who desire power above good works. Here in DC, so many people want to seem important in the eyes of others and there’s so much social climbing that goes on. With that comes a very hyper-competitive, and in my opinion, toxic attitude that forgets that combined effort is the only way we will ever begin to fix the problems of the world. People come to do good, and end up hoping they’ll do very well, indeed.

    Keeping ego out of the equation is a huge issue and an especially frustrating systemic one, at that.