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A word cloud of the most frequently used words in paper titles from Banerjee.

Last month, Abhijit Banerjee won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, together with Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer, “for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty.” Professor Banerjee has indeed published many papers on experiments, but he’s also a prominent developer of economic theory. Early in his career, he developed economic theories of everyday phenomena that have important economic implications, like envy, rumors, learning by word of mouth, and—in his most highly cited paper of all time—herd behavior. His first mentions of experimental work are—by my count—about 50 publications into a highly productive career.

In the blog post below, you’ll find a quick introduction to almost all of his publications (123 out of 129), grouped by academic citations per year since publication. The range of topics is breathtaking, from land reform to corruption to microcredit to international aid to the fundamental nature of poverty. (Just typing that sentence exhausted me.)

Within categories, I’ve ordered studies chronologically. (I’ve linked to open-access versions of the articles wherever possible; you can find the published versions in Google Scholar.) In case you missed them, I did a similar round-ups for the work of Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer.

Platinum Hits

  • A Simple Model of Herd Behavior”: When people are faced with decisions, they may look at the decisions others have made. After all, those other people may have important information. But taken together, people start to just do what others are doing rather than use the information they themselves have. It doesn’t turn out well. (1992)

  • Occupational Choice and the Process of Development”: “Why does one country remain populated by small proprietors, artisans, and peasants while another becomes a nation of entrepreneurs employing industrial workers in large factories?” This paper seeks to provide “a dynamic account of institutional change by focusing on the evolution of occupational patterns.” (with Newman, 1993)

  • Currency Crises and Monetary Policy in an Economy with Credit Constraints”: “Currency crises can occur both under fixed and flexible exchange rate regimes [since] the primary source of crises is the deteriorating balance sheet of private firms.” (with Aghion and Bacchetta, 2001)

  • Inequality and Growth: What Can the Data Say?”: “It is often that the most basic questions in economics turn out to be the hardest to answer and the most provocative answers end up being the bravest and the most suspect. Thus it is with the empirical literature on the effect of inequality on growth… Changes in inequality (in any direction) are associated with lower future growth rates.” (with Duflo, 2003)

  • Growth Theory through the Lens of Development Economics”: “Above all, we need better growth theory… This is an exciting time to think about growth. We are beginning to see the contours of a new vision, both more rooted in evidence and more ambitious in its theorizing.” (with Duflo, 2005)

  • History, Institutions, and Economic Performance: The Legacy of Colonial Land Tenure Systems in India”: Property rights matter! “Differences in historical property rights institutions lead to sustained differences in economic outcomes.” (with Iyer, 2005)

  • The Political Economy of Public Goods: Some Evidence from India”: In India in the 1970s and 80s, “among the historically disadvantaged social groups, those that mobilized themselves politically gained relative to the others.” (with Somanathan, 2007)

  • Remedying Education: Evidence from Two Randomized Experiments in India”: “A remedial education program” that “hired young women to teach students lagging behind in basic literacy and numeracy skills…increased average test scores of all children in treatment schools by 0.28 standard deviation... A computer-assisted learning program focusing on math increased math scores by 0.47 standard deviation.” (with Cole et al., 2007)

  • The Economic Lives of the Poor”: Survey data from 13 countries help to document the economic lives of poor people. There are surprises: The poor spend less on food and more on entertainment than one might expect. (with Duflo, 2007)

  • Why Has Unemployment Risen in the New South Africa”: “Because most of the reasons for unemployment are structural, policy is especially needed. Simply waiting for the positive ‘shock’ to counter the negative one is unlikely to be fruitful.” (with Galiani et al., 2008)

  • What is Middle Class about the Middle Classes around the World?”: Using household surveys from 13 countries, you can read this as a companion piece to Banerjee and Duflo’s “The Economic Lives of the Poor.” “Nothing seems more middle class than the fact of having a steady well-paying job. While there are many petty entrepreneurs among the middle class… if they could only find the right salaried job, they might be quite content to shut their business down.” (with Duflo, 2008)

  • The Experimental Approach to Development Economics”: The authors lay out the promise of and concerns with an experimental approach to development economics. “Economists are sometimes well placed to propose or identify programs that are likely to make big differences. Perhaps even more importantly, they are often in a position to midwife the process of policy discovery, based on the interplay of theory and experimental research. This process of ‘creative experimentation,’ where policymakers and researchers work together to think out of the box and learn from successes and failures, is the most valuable contribution of the recent surge in experimental work in economics.” (with Duflo, 2009)

  • Pitfalls of Participatory Programs: Evidence from a randomized evaluation in education in India”: In India, “training volunteers to hold remedial reading camps” improved literacy for attendees, but two other interventions to get communities involved in education “had no impact on community involvement.” (with Banerji et al., 2010)

  • Volatility and Growth: Credit Constraints and the Composition of Investment”: “Through its effect on the cyclical composition of investment, tighter credit can lead to both higher volatility and lower mean growth.” (with Aghion et al., 2010)

  • Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty: “Poor Economics is a book about the very rich economics that emerges from understanding the economic lives of the poor. It is a book about the kinds of theories that help us make sense of both what the poor are able to achieve, and where and for that reason they need a push.” (with Duflo, 2011)

  • Targeting the Poor: Evidence from a Field Experiment in Indonesia”: What’s the best way to identify the poor? Let the community identify them, do an inventory of assets, or a mix? Based on an experiment with 600+ villages, the inventory method captures who is poor most precisely, but community identification leaves people most satisfied. (with Alatas et al., 2012)

  • Corruption”: Traditionally, corruption has been characterized a simple problem of differing incentives by bureaucrats from those of their bosses, with the solution being better monitoring and tougher penalties. But this analysis suggests that these interact with the specific task the bureaucrat has before her, with different implications for action. (with Hanna and Mullainathan, 2013)

  • Microcredit Under the Microscope: What have we learnt in the last two decades, what do we need to know?”: Here are two remaining empirical questions about microcredit: “First, is it possible to help borrowers make better use of the loan? Second, is it possible to create a mechanism that makes loans that are an order of magnitude larger than microcredit loans (e.g., $10,000 instead of $250) and still assure high repayment rates?” (2013)

  • The Diffusion of Microfinance”: If the first people who find out about a microfinance program in a community are well-connected, then community participation will be higher. But people hear about the program even from non-participants. (with Duflo et al., 2013)

  • Do Firms Want to Borrow More: Testing Credit Constraints Using a Targeted Lending Program”: A policy experiment reveals that many Indian firms were “severely credit constrained, and that the marginal rate of return to capital was very high for these firms.” The way you can tell is that they use a new credit source to expand production rather than to substitute for other forms of credit. (with Duflo, 2014)

  • A multifaceted program causes lasting progress for the very poor: Evidence from six countries”: A holistic approach to help the poor that combined “the transfer of a productive asset with consumption support, training, and coaching plus savings encouragement and health education and/or services” across six different countries increased consumption and mental health. The positive impacts lasted at least a year after the program ended. (with Duflo et al., 2015)

  • Six Randomized Evaluations of Microcredit: Introduction and Further Steps”: Six studies of microcredit show “a consistent pattern of modestly positive, but not transformative, effects.” (with Karlan and Zinman, 2015)

  • The Miracle of Microfinance? Evidence from a Randomized Evaluation”: A microcredit program in India led to “no significant changes in health, education, or women’s empowerment.” (with Duflo et al., 2015)

  • Debunking the Stereotype of the Lazy Welfare Recipient: Evidence from Cash Transfer Programs”: “We re-analyze the data from 7 randomized controlled trials of government-run cash transfer programs in six developing countries throughout the world, and find no systematic evidence that cash transfer programs discourage work.” (with Hanna et al., 2017) I make a cameo appearance in this paper: “A 2014 review of transfer programs worldwide by Evans and Popova also show no evidence—despite claims in the policy debate—that the transfers induce increases in spending on temptation goods, such alcohol and tobacco.”

Gold Hits

  • Thy Neighbor's Keeper: The Design of a Credit Cooperative with Theory and a Test”: There are a few reasons “why cooperatives might function better than conventional banking arrangements in less developed economies.” Evidence from nineteenth-century Germany suggests they may work better because peers can monitor their neighbors better than banks can. (with Besley and Guinnane, 1994)

  • A Theory of Misgovernance”: Why are government bureaucracies “often associated with red tape, corruption, and lack of incentives”? Two ingredients mixed together: (1) governments act where markets fail, and (2) “like all other organizations, the government has agents who are more interested in their own welfare than in any collective goals.” (1997)

  • A Simple Model of Monetary Policy and Currency Crises”: In a currency crisis, “an interest rate increase has an ambiguous effect on firms since it makes more difficult to borrow and may decrease the foreign currency debt burden. In some cases it is actually best to decrease the interest rate.” (with Aghion and Bacchetta, 2000)

  • Reputation Effects and the Limits of Contracting: A Study of the Indian Software Industry”: “We find strong effects of reputation (measured in several different ways) on the choice of contracts and the contractual outcomes.” (with Duflo, 2000)

  • Empowerment and Efficiency: The Economics of a Tenancy Reform”: Laws that offer security to agricultural tenants have mixed effects: on the one hand, it gives tenants more bargaining power and so improves their incentives to work on the land they rend; on the other hand, it “eliminates the possibility of using eviction threats as an incentive device by the landlord.” In West Bengal, India, reforms had a net positive effect on agricultural productivity. (with Gertler and Ghatak, 2002)

  • Contracting Constraints, Credit Markets, and Economic Development”: “Development economists are, perhaps by necessity, optimistic people. One does not become a development economist if one believes that the world’s poorest are doing as well as they possibly could. Indeed the premise of the entire field is that there is talent in every people, if not every person, and if there is one central question it has to be what prevents people from making the best use of their natural talents?” (2004)

  • Wealth, Health, and Health Services in Rural Rajasthan”: “Villagers’ health is poor; the quality of the public service is abysmal; private providers unregulated and for the most part unqualified provide the bulk of health care in the area… Yet, as we have seen for the self-reported health status, villagers not only do not perceive their health as particularly bad, but they seem pretty content with what they are getting.” (with Banerjee and Deaton, 2004)

  • A Corporate Balance-Sheet Approach to Currency Crises”: “Researchers in recent years have had to grapple with the puzzle of how fast-growing economies with large export surpluses and substantial government surpluses, could end up in the space of months, in a deep and damaging currency crisis. This paper builds on a very simple story of why things fall apart quite so dramatically.” (with Aghion and Bacchetta, 2004)

  • Financial Development and the Instability of Open Economies”: “Countries that are going through a phase of financial development may become more unstable in the short run.” (with Aghion and Bacchetta, 2004)

  • Word of Mouth Learning”: “Word-of-mouth learning, in which agents use information about the experiences of other agents to guide their own decisions ... has long been known to be an important component of brand choice by consumers; it also seems to be relevant for the adoption of agricultural technologies and other production processes, and more generally to the spreading of fads, fashions, and ideas within society.” Banerjee and Fudenberg offer an economic model of it. (with Fudenberg, 2004)

  • Volatility and Growth: “The lower the level of financial development in a country the more detrimental the effect of volatility on growth.” (with Aghion, 2005)

  • Top Indian Incomes, 1922-2000”: In India, “the shares of the top 0.01 percent, 0.1 percent, and 1 percent in total income shrank substantially from the 1950s to the early to mid-1980s but then rose again, so that today these shares are only slightly below what they were in the 1920s and 1930s.” (with Piketty, 2005)

  • History, Social Divisions and Public Goods in Rural India”: “Regions that were under British colonial power in the pre-independence period and those where agrarian power was concentrated in the hands of landlords have lower access to” public goods. (with Iyer and Somanathan, 2005)

  • Addressing Absence”: Bringing “together evidence from a number of randomized experiments designed to address the problem of absence of teachers and health providers in developing countries… our tentative conclusion is that these service providers are willing to respond even to quite moderate incentives.” The problem? “Getting the incentives implemented: participants in the system, including both supervisors and beneficiaries, seem unwilling or unable do so.” (with Duflo, 2006)

  • Making Aid Work: How to Fight Global Poverty—Effectively”: “The culture of aid-giving evolved from the idea that giving is good and the more money the better… and therefore—here comes the logical leap—one need not think too hard about how the money is spent. We have now learned that this kind of lazy giving does not work… The time seems ripe to launch an effort to change the way aid is given. Empirical research on best practice in development has grown apace in the last decade or so, and we now have evidence on a number of programs that work.” (2006)

  • Putting a Band Aid on a Corpse: Incentives for Nurses in the Indian Public Health Care System”: Absenteeism is a big problem in India’s health care system. A new monitoring system, with financial incentives for good attendance and adverse consequences for the worst offenders, was effective at first. “But after a few months, the local health administration appears to have undermined the scheme from the inside by letting the nurses claim an increasing number of ‘exempt days.’ Eighteen months after its inception, the program had become completely ineffective.” (with Duflo and Glennerster, 2007)

  • Giving Credit Where it is Due”: “The experimental literature on credit markets in developing countries shows the powerful connections between empirical research and theory in development economics. Empirical work in this area has drawn directly on a well-developed body of theoretical research, testing and finding support for some theories, but not others, and has gone on to generate new puzzles that the theory needs to explain.” (with Duflo, 2010)

  • Improving Immunization Coverage in Rural India: A Clustered Randomized Controlled Evaluation of Immunization Campaigns with and without Incentives”: Setting up reliable immunization camps in rural India showed that “improving reliability of services improves immunization rates, and small, non-financial incentives have large positive impacts on the uptake of immunization services in resource-poor areas.” (with Duflo et al., 2010)

  • Being surveyed can change later behavior and related parameter estimates”: Across “three health experiments, … [just] being surveyed increases use of water treatment products and take-up of medical insurance.” But in microcredit experiments, being surveyed didn’t affect borrowing. (with Zwane et al., 2011)

  • Marry for What? Caste and Mate Selection in Modern India”: Using a dataset of marriage advertisements (i.e., an ad to find a spouse) in India, “we find evidence for very strong own-caste preferences… The bride’s side would be willing to trade off the difference between no education and a master’s degree in the prospective husband to avoid marrying outside their caste.” (with Banerjee et al., 2013)

  • Self-Targeting: Evidence from a Field Experiment in Indonesia”: Requiring poor people to apply for a conditional cash transfer did a better job of targeting the program to the poor than an alternative model where an interviewer visited the home and automatically enrolled people if they appeared to meet the eligibility criteria. Richer people couldn’t be bothered with applying. (with Alatas et al., 2016)

  • Network Structure and the Aggregation of Information: Theory and Evidence from Indonesia”: Based on data from more than 600 communities, “community-based targeting appears more effective than a more traditional, data-driven approach in areas where networks are more diffusive,” (i.e., information flows more freely). (with Alatas et al., 2016)

  • From Proof of Concept to Scalable Policies: Challenges and Solutions, with an Application”: “The promise of randomized controlled trials is that evidence gathered through the evaluation of a specific program helps us—possibly after several rounds of fine-tuning and multiple replications in different contexts—to inform policy… This paper describes the journey from the original concept to the design and evaluation of scalable policy,” using “a series of strategies that aim to integrate the nongovernment organization Pratham’s ‘Teaching at the Right Level’ methodology into elementary schools in India.” (with Banerjee et al., 2017)

Hits

  • Risk Bearing and the Theory of Income Distribution”: “Does a market economy exacerbate the level of inequality in wealth and income”? “It turns out, of course, that the answers one obtains will depend on just what one means by a market economy.” (with Newman, 1991)

  • The Economics of Rumours”: Come here for an economic definition of rumors—(a) you aren’t sure if the information you get is accurate and (b) the more people who have the information, the more likely it is that you’ll get it—and some surprising implications: More information may leave people worse off. (1993)

  • Poverty, Incentives, and Development”: “It is not clear that the evident behavioral differences between the poor and everyone else—the poor save less and are less likely to become entrepreneurs, for example—arise from differences in preferences and abilities or instead from differences in the economic environment.” (with Newman, 1994)

  • A Walrasian Theory of Money and Barter”: “Money has always been something of an embarrassment to economic theory. Everyone agrees that it is important; indeed, much of macroeconomic policy discussion makes no sense without reference to money. Yet, for the most part theory fails to provide a good account for it.” (with Maskin, 1996)

  • Information, the Dual Economy and Development”: “The process by which an underdeveloped economy transforms itself into a developed one involves more than just a rise in living standards. It usually brings about substantial changes in the way people conduct their entire lives their social relations, their levels of urbanization and commercialization, even their political roles.” (with Newman, 1998)

  • A Simple Model of Voice”: “In the 30 years since Hirschman [1970] wrote about voice, the concept has gained more currency than content… We feel that voice is an important and neglected part of the study of the functioning of organizations in general and the political system in particular.” Here, voice is “the voluntary expression of people’s views.” (with Somanathan, 2001)

  • Inequality, Control Rights and Rent-Seeking: Sugar Cooperatives in Maharashtra”: In farming cooperatives with some large farmers and some small farmers (that’s land size, not body type), “large farmers will try to depress the sugarcane price in order to extract rents from the small growers.” (with Mookherjee et al., 2001)

  • Educational Policy and the Economics of the Family”: “Most theoretical and empirical studies of investment in education have to take a stand on how they think the family makes its decisions.” Banerjee explores how the implications of different assumptions about family decision-making on how parents invest in their kids. (2004)

  • Health Care Delivery in Rural Rajasthan”: “The picture painted by our data is bleak: villagers’ health is poor despite the fact that they heavily use health care facilities and spend a lot on health care.” (with Banerjee and Deaton, 2004)

  • How Efficiently is Capital Allocated: Evidence from the Knitted Garment Industry in Tirupur”: How much do people invest in businesses? It depends on their peers. “The fact that community identity is very important for investment is, in this view, a symptom of ill-functioning capital markets. The desired policy response is therefore to try to improve the functioning of the capital markets—simply trying to discourage community-based lending by imposing regulations on informal credit transactions, will probably do more damage than good.” (with Munshi, 2004)

  • Bank Financing in India”: “Bank credit in India does not necessarily seem to flow to firms and individuals who have the greatest potential use for it. To correct this deficiency, we first suggest amending lending rules so that they are more responsive to current and future profitability.” (with Duflo and Cole, 2005)

  • Banking Reform in India”: “Giving banks a stronger incentive to lend by cutting the interest rate on government borrowing will also help. The evidence reported above suggests that where lending is difficult, making lending to the government less lucrative can strongly encourage bankers to make loans to the private sector.” (with Cole and Duflo, 2005)

  • The Two Poverties”: “Are the poor just like you and me except in that they have less money, to invert Hemingway’s famous line? Or is it useful to think of them as being subject to different pressures from the rest of the population and therefore sometimes making choices that are very different?” (2005)

  • Public Action for Public Goods”: There is “enormous spatial variation…in the availability of public goods… Access to many basic public goods is likely to converge in the coming years. Some areas that have had historically poor access are currently in the midst of major economic expansions accompanied by rapid increases in public good coverage. As this happens, we will need to shift our attention to quality differences.” (with Iyer and Somanathan, 2007)

  • Making Aid Work”: Some people believe aid doesn’t work because of poor policy environments. But “the way the money is planned to be spent is also a very big problem… It is hard to imagine a good reason for spending a lot of money without having done at least one successful randomized trial, assuming that a randomized trial is possible.” (with He, 2008)

  • Limited Attention and Income Distribution”: “Attention is a scarce resource that is important for productivity. Specifically, people may not be able to fully attend to their jobs if they are also worrying about problems at home and being distracted in this way reduces productivity.” Poor people lack certain services that “can reduce the extend of home life distraction,” like “a good babysitter, a 24-hour piped water supply, a connection to a power supply grid.” (with Mullainathan, 2008)

  • Under the Thumb of History? Political Institutions and the Scope for Action”: “The choice facing the field of political economy is very simple. It can embrace grand theories that will offer us the satisfaction of strong and simple answers. Or it can try to be useful.” (with Duflo, 2014)

  • (Dis)organization and Success in an Economics MOOC”: “The main problem that MOOCs [Massive Open Online Courses] face is that few users actually complete the class.” Examining data from their MOOC on global poverty, Banerjee and Duflo find that “students whose behavior suggests that they are not organized are significantly less likely to succeed in a MOOC… This is entirely driven by their failure to complete assignments on time.” (with Duflo, 2014)

  • Bundling Health Insurance and Microfinance in India: There Cannot Be Adverse Selection if There is No Demand”: “Drawing evidence from the randomized introduction of a health insurance program bundled with a standard microfinance program, we show that … a large fraction of borrowers (16 percentage points) were actually willing to give up microfinance to avoid purchasing health insurance, and that the majority of those clients ended up losing access to microfinance altogether.“ (with Duflo and Hornbeck, 2014)

  • The impact of training informal health care providers in India: A randomized controlled trial”: Training informal health care providers—72 sessions over 9 months—“increased correct case management rates but did not reduce the use of unnecessary medicines or antibiotics… At a program cost of $175 per trainee, our results suggest that multitopic medical training offers an effective short-run strategy to improve health care.” (with Das et al., 2016)

  • Decision Theoretic Approaches to Experiment Design and External Validity”: “We believe that the issues facing the experimental community present a rich and useful set of challenges for decision theory. It is a rare opportunity for theorists to write models that could impact the practice of their colleagues down the hall.” (with Chassang and Snowberg, 2017)

  • Introduction and Overview to the edited volume ‘Understanding Poverty’”: “We felt it would be useful to put together a body of critical essays, written primarily for non-economists, and written well, that would take on different aspects of the problem of poverty.” (with Bénabou and Mookherjee, 2006)

B-Sides

  • Evolutionary Selection and Rational Behavior”: “The strongest justification for the assumption of rationality of firms’ behavior comes from evolutionary considerations… The environment is more or less competitive… In such a world, those who fail to maximize their profits will in the long run become extinct.” (with Weibull, 1995)

  • Neutrally Stable Outcomes in Cheap Talk Coordination Games”: This is a theory paper on “cheap-talk 2 x 2 coordination games.” But here’s a bit from the conclusion: “For many economics applications, the ‘medium term’ may be more relevant for predictive purposes than the ‘very long run.’” (with Weibull, 2000)

  • Prospects and Strategies for Land Reforms”: “Redistributive land reform may promote both equity and efficiency. Implementing such reform can be costly, however, and may not be the best way to achieve redistribution.” Banerjee makes the case for land reform in this paper. “Where traditional (coercive) land reform is not possible, market-assisted reforms and tenancy reforms can be considered, but while they are easier to implement, they have important disadvantages.” (2000)

  • Strategy for Economic Reform in West Bengal”: To revive industry in West Bengal, India, policy should consider including “public investment in transport and communication, measures to improve higher education, foster industry-university collaborations, and help small-scale industries overcome specific market imperfections (access to credit, technology and distribution channels).” (with Bardhan et al., 2002)

  • The World Bank of the Future”: “If the Bank is to be more effective… it has to move to a much more scientific process for the selection of projects and ideas. If something has to get the Bank’s imprimatur, the expectation should be that there is a clear and well-understood theory behind it, and that it has been subjected to multiple randomized evaluations, to ensure both internal and external validity… Where randomization is physically impossible (say, the bank needs to decide whether to push for the abolition of power subsidies), the rule should be to stay away unless the theoretical case and the available high-quality nonexperimental evidence is exceptionally compelling.” (with He, 2003)

  • The (Mis)allocation of Capital”: In standard economics, capital should be allocated so that it’s marginal product equals its marginal cost (the interest rate). Also, capital should be allocated across uses so that the marginal product is equal across uses. Based in Indian data, “things on the ground are nowhere near the neoclassical ideal.” (with Duflo and Munshi, 2003)

  • What Do Banks (Not) Do?”: “In many ways the banking system in India, including the regulatory apparatus, remains a product of the planning years: It seems to be a system that was conceived for a world where people were expected to do what they were told, and things happened to as they were meant to.” (with Banerjee, 2004)

  • Who is Getting the Public Goods in India? Some evidence and some speculation”: “If there is one thing that comes out of this data, it is the fact that access to public goods is substantially a matter of who can extract them from the political system.” (2004)

  • Eviction Threats and Investment Incentives”: Threatening an agricultural tenant with eviction can increase the tenant’s effort. (with Ghatak, 2004)

  • Notes Towards a Theory of Industrialization in the Developing World”: An “important influence on the location of industry particularly in the developing world is the availability in a particular area of either capital or that particular connectedness of communities that is sometimes described as social capital.” (2005)

  • Inequality and Investment”: “In a world where markets work perfectly, investment decisions should have very little to do with the income, wealth or social status of the decision maker.” But in our world, they matter. (2005)

  • Are the Rich Growing Richer? Evidence from Indian Tax Data”: “In the 1990s, the rich were indeed getting richer much faster than anyone else, but this was entirely driven by what was happening to the very rich.” (with Piketty, 2005)

  • ‘New Development Economics’ and the Challenge to Theory”: “What is unusual about the state of development economics today is not that there is too little theory, but that theory has lost its position at the vanguard: New questions are being asked by empirical researchers, but, for the most part, they are not coming from a prior body of worked-out theory.” (2005)

  • The Paradox of Indian Growth: A Comment on Kochar et al.”: “The fact that the slowest-growing states are also the ones with the highest population growth obviously poses a major threat to the stability of India’s current relatively pro-growth policy regime.” (2006)

  • Inside the Machine: Toward a New Development Economics”: “The great virtue of the recent emphasis on randomized evaluations of social programs, it seems to me, is that they force us to venture inside the machine. To implement a proper evaluation, one has to know the exact details that define a program. And as economists think about them, they begin to build stories about them and get ideas about how to change them for the better.” (2007)

  •  “Can Informational Campaigns Raise Awareness and Local Participation in Primary Education”: “A central plank of public policy for improving primary education services in India is the participation of village education committees [or VEC], consisting of village government leaders, parents, and teachers.” Based on a survey, “most parents do not know that a VEC exists, public participation in improving education is negligible, and large numbers of children in the villages have not acquired basic competencies of reading, writing, and arithmetic.” (with Banerji et al., 2007)

  • Mandated Empowerment. Handing Antipoverty Policy Back to the Poor?”: “The current trend in antipoverty policy emphasizes mandated empowerment: the poor are being handed the responsibility for making things better for themselves, largely without being asked whether this is what they want.” Two examples suggest it might not be what they want: “While many poor people own businesses, this seems to be more a survival strategy than something they want to do”; and in rural schools, “despite being informed that they now have both the right to intervene in the school and access to funds for that purpose, and despite being made aware of how little the children were learning, parents opt to not get involved. Both examples raise concerns about committing ourselves entirely to antipoverty strategies that rely on the poor doing a lot of the work.” (with Duflo, 2008)

  • Aging and Death Under a Dollar a Day”: “The poor, and particularly the extremely poor, have a lower chance of survival than those who are somewhat more well- off. We have not tried to disentangle the direction of the causality: these adults could be poor because they are in poor health, which would then in turn explain why they are more likely to die. Or alternatively, being poor could make them more likely to die. And of course, both directions of causality may be true at the same time… On balance, we are tempted to interpret the evidence accumulated in this chapter as revealing, at least in part, that poverty does kill.” (with Duflo, 2010)

  • Is Decentralized Iron Fortification a Feasible Option to Fight Anemia Among the Poorest?”: In this “randomized evaluation of an experimental community-level iron fortification program in Udaipur district, Rajasthan,” millers [the people who grind flour] “were trained and supplied with simple equipment to fortify flour in a safe and easily implemented way… Ultimately take up was quite low (around 30% of flour was fortified). The program was effective in reducing anemia as long as the take up was high enough, but ineffective when and where take up was low.” (with Duflo and Glennerster, 2011)

  • Movies, Margins and Marketing: Encouraging the Adoption of Iron Fortified Salt”: Shopkeepers in Indian villages received the chance to sell “a new salt, fortified with both iron and iodine…at 50% discount.” Showing a short edutainment film about the benefits of the salt increased take-up a lot. (with Barnhardt and Duflo, 2017)

  • Policies for a better-fed world”: “The design of the best transfer programs for promoting better nutrition turns out to be more complex than one might have imagined; in particular, while there are lots of examples and some good evidence, there remain many uncertainties about what works best.” (2016)

Deep Cuts

  • Dual Exchange Rate”: Published a year after Banerjee completed his master’s degree, he argues that a recent proposal of a dual exchange rate for India “grossly underestimates the ingenuity of the Indian capitalists.” He goes on to lay out how he and his hypothetical US-based brother could manipulate such a policy. (1984)

  • Envy”: Envy “is the most immediate example of what economists typically call an externality.” Yet it is little studied. Here, Banerjee argues that envy may be rational, that it may distort the market, and that it has policy implications: “Certain types of tax policy may be welfare improving in the presence of envy.” (1990)

  • Productivity Paralysis and the Complexity Problem: Why Do Centrally Planned Economies Become Prematurely Grey?”: Here’s a theory of the slowdown in productivity in the Soviet economy. “A significant component of it can be explained by the increasing difficulties encountered by systems of central planning as the economy becomes more complex.” (with Spagat, 1991)

  • Incentives and Shortages in the Soviet Economy: A Model of a Three-Level Hierarchy”: Why are supplies of inputs to produce things so unreliable in centrally planned economies? Based on this new theory, ultimately government “ministries are too big and too powerful.” (with Spagat, 1992)

  • Shortages Amid Plenty Under Soviet Planning: A Theory of Unreliable Supplies”: In Soviet-type economies, it’s difficult to “control the variability of input supplies.” The result? Higher average and variability than in the best case. (with Spagat, 1992)

  • Evolution and Rationality: Some Recent Game-Theoretic Results”: Are people really rational, or does natural selection just lead them to act as if they were rational? (with Weibull, 1996)

  • Comment on ‘Rural Industrialization in East Asia,’ by Keijiro Otsuka”: “It turns out that sometimes it may even be warranted to try to actively prevent capital from flowing into [certain] industries on the grounds that this will force the lenders to lend, albeit at a lower profit, to more productive but less trustworthy investors.” (1998)

  • Comment on ‘Liquidity Crises in Emerging Markets: Theory and Policy,’ by Chang and Velasco”: In one model, “a relaxed monetary stance, in a situation in which a currency crisis is threatened, may ease the pressure on banks. This in turn allows the economy to avoid the credit crunch and the fall in output, thereby staving off the currency crisis.” (1999)

  • Dualism and Macro-Economic Volatility”: “The government should issue public debt during recessions in order to absorb … idle savings and finance investment subsidies or tax cuts for investors.” (1999)

  • Comment on ‘A Half-Century of Development’, by Richard N. Cooper, and ‘The Evolution of Thinking on Development’ by Gustav Ranis”: “I offer what one might call a cartoon history of the past 50 years of development… Both development and development economics have come a long way from where they were 50 years ago.” (2005)

  • Making Aid Work: Review of J. Sachs ‘The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time’”: “Development cannot be conjured up instantly. Even if the money were there, the management capacity of the governments would prove a constraint.” (2005)

  • Globalization and All That”: “Unrestricted migration is not an option, we are told, because of its potential for enormous displacement and damage to the social fabric. But is there not damage to the social fabric when cotton farmers in India end their lives because, with imports so much cheaper, no one wants their cotton anymore?” (2006)

  • Comment on Buiter-Patel”: “The government should force the public sector banks to come together into a small number of much bigger banks, each under the leadership of one of the best public banks.” (2006)

  • A Prize for a Brave Man”: In this reflection on Muhammad Yunus’s receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize, Banerjee writes, “We still do not have a scientific evaluation of the impact of micro-credit even on simple outcomes like family earnings-the early attempts to do impact evaluations have had obvious flaws, and together fall well short of a ringing endorsement.” (2006)

  • Cars, Not Land: What the Debate on Singur hasn’t Touched”: “Every time someone buys a car, the pressure on politicians to deliver better public transportation goes down. The people who get hurt by this realignment of political priorities are the poor, those who cannot imagine buying a scooter, let alone a car.” (2007)

  • A Capitalist Knows Who to Call”: “Would society be better off if the creative capitalists stuck to their day jobs, where they clearly are doing some good – creating jobs, serving customers, inventing new products – or would it be better off if they ventured into what is sometimes called the social sector?” (2008)

  • Long Run Impacts of Income Shocks: Wine and Phylloxera in 19th Century France”: “Between 1863 and 1890, phylloxera [“an insect that attacks the roots of vines”] destroyed 40% of French vineyards… The shock decreased long-run height, but it did not affect other dimensions of health, including life expectancy.” (with Duflo et al., 2010)

  • Investment Efficiency and the Distribution of Wealth”: “There is some reason to believe that a lot of the inefficiency lies in the fact that many medium size firms are too small.” (2010)

  • Nutrition, Iron Deficiency Anemia and the Demand for Iron-Fortified Salt: Evidence from an Experiment in Rural Bihar”: A survey in Bihar, India, shows high potential returns to an intervention to fight anemia. But when the intervention (double-fortified salt) was introduced, take-up falls very quickly with price—i.e., people aren’t willing to pay much for it. (with Barnhardt and Duflo, 2014)

  • An Introduction to the ‘Handbook of Field Experiments’”: “In development economics, the non-experimental literature was completely transformed by the existence of this large RCT movement. When the “gold standard” is not just a twinkle in someone’s eyes, but the clear alternative to a particular empirical strategy… researchers feel compelled to think harder about identification strategies… The standards of the nonexperimental literature have therefore improved tremendously over the last few decades, without necessarily sacrificing its ability to ask broad and important questions.” (with Duflo, 2017)

The Latest

Reflections

Looking at Banerjee’s extensive, diverse body of work, here are a few reflections.

  1. Economic theory and empirical work are complements, not substitutes. A seasoned theorist himself, Banerjee is not above poking fun at the fact that people don’t always view theory as useful. In one paper, he proposed “a rare opportunity for theorists to write models that could impact the practice of their colleagues down the hall.” Yet his work shows a repeated productive interaction—both within and across papers—between theory and empirics. He’s written theory on credit, synthesized evidence on credit, and produced evidence on credit. The same is true for public goods. Fifteen years ago, he highlighted the changing relationship between theory and empirics in economics: “What is unusual about the state of development economics today is not that there is too little theory, but that theory has lost its position at the vanguard: New questions are being asked by empirical researchers, but, for the most part, they are not coming from a prior body of worked-out theory.”

  2. Find a great research partner with complementary strengths. About thirty percent of Banerjee’s publications have been co-authored with his fellow Nobel prizewinner, Esther Duflo. Duflo is not principally known as a theorist: her best-known work is either directly empirical or on improving empirical methods. But together, they’ve advanced our knowledge on economic growth, microfinance, poverty, healthcare, and more. Their productivity and joint contributions remind me of another duo that resulted in an Economics Nobel Prize, that of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, which is wonderfully documented in Michael Lewis’s book The Undoing Project.

  3. Active engagement in public policy is not precluded by serious economic research. Banerjee just won the Nobel for his work with experimental methods. Before that work, he was best known as a theorist. But as I went through his publications, I saw publication after publication in popular outlets, weighing in on public policy issues of the day. He contributed to a strategy for economic reform in West Bengal, India. He has commented on India’s exchange rate policy, commenting that one recent proposal “grossly underestimates the ingenuity of the Indian capitalists.” He has written on land reform and automobile policy in Singur, India. Banerjee has always had a steady stream of research publications in top academic outlets, but he shows that it’s possible to combine that with active policy engagement.

You can find the full list of Banerjee’s publications yourself here, and he provides links to most of the published papers (along with many working papers) here. Many thanks to Amina Mendez Acosta for essential work identifying studies, tracking down open-access versions, and finding citation counts. And I’ll close with a disclosure: Banerjee was one of my professors during my PhD, and I was very grateful for his instruction and guidance.

Disclaimer

CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.