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How The 3 Nobel Winners For Economics Upended The Fight Against Poverty (NPR)

October 15, 2019

From the article:

This year's Nobel Prize in economics was awarded to three scholars who revolutionized the effort to end global poverty: Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo of MIT and Michael Kremer of Harvard are essentially credited with applying the scientific method to an enterprise that, until recently, was largely based on gut instincts...

Even as they tout the successes, many champions of this evidence-based approach to fighting poverty say it's not being used widely enough. For instance, at the World Bank and the U.S. Agency for International Development only a fraction of projects are subject to impact evaluations, according to an analysis by the think tank Center for Global Development. The group, based in Washington, D.C., did an exhaustive review to identify large-scale health programs that made a big impact through 2016. Of about 250, they found that only 50 used rigorous methods to establish the attributable impact. Similarly, some staff at the U.S. Agency for International Development have been pushing an experimental effort to use RCTs to test whether any given aid program is more impactful than simply handing out an equivalent amount in cash. But that effort has also run into resistance. Former staffers there say it's at least partly because there's an inherent bias against trusting poor people to spend cash wisely – regardless of what the evidence shows.

Meanwhile, there's also debate among economists as to whether the focus on RCTs obscures deeper, more fundamental drivers of poverty – such as systemic inequality – that must be addressed if there's any hope of truly improving lives on a mass scale.

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