Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo, and Michael Kremer won the 2019 Nobel Prize for Economics. They can be credited for a revolution in development economics driven by the use of experiments to design social policy for development. They have been praised for their contribution to poverty alleviation. Their work has been central to the elevation of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) as the gold standard method to design development interventions.
When I showed Duflo’s TED talk to my students, most of them were persuaded by the narrative put forward. An empirical approach yielding straight-forward, concrete, and effective answers to well-defined questions – a clear pathway to fight poverty. The success of this approach, corroborated by the decision taken by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences yesterday, is evident much beyond my classroom, with the proliferation of experiments across the development industry, among policy makers and in academia. The power of the narrative is something that we, critics, need to take more seriously.
The influence of the randomistas’ work is undoubtable. If there is anything to be celebrated, it is probably that this Nobel Prize is directing the attention of the wider public to the persisting global challenge of poverty at a time when nationalistic and inward-looking sentiments are on the rise across much of the West and in some fast-growing economies in the South.