Last week, Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo, and Michael Kremer received the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences “for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty.” Each of them is incredibly productive and has published not only influential experimental work (the approach for which they received the prize), but also economic research using other methods. In this blog post, I’ll give you a bite-sized introduction to more than 100 of Michael Kremer’s research publications, many of them carried out in collaboration with other researchers. (I reviewed every published study, book chapter, and reply I could find, but a few studies published in other languages or old book chapters were unavailable. I also excluded the working papers.) In the coming weeks, I plan to do the same for Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee. As you’ll see, Kremer has published widely in economic theory, macroeconomics, health, education, and more.
To make this easier to navigate, I’ve grouped the publications by one measure of influence, academic citations per year since publication. The categories are not indications of the quality of the research, just its academic influence to date. Within categories, I’ve ordered studies chronologically. (I’ve linked to open-access versions of the articles wherever possible; you can easily find the published versions in Google Scholar.)
I hope you enjoy this tour of one of the great minds in development economics as much as I did. After the tour of Kremer’s papers, I offer a few thoughts of my own.
These are the publications that Michael Kremer is most known for. Altogether, these publications have been cited nearly 17,000 times. They range from big models of economic growth to specific tests of what works to improve education or agriculture in low- or middle-income countries, along with work advancing the experimental methods for which Kremer won the Nobel prize.
“The O-Ring Theory of Economic Development”: If producing goods requires a whole series of tasks, and each task has to be completed successfully for the good to turn out right, then more than one worker with less skill may not be able to substitute for a worker with more skill (who can get the task right). This way of thinking about production can potentially explain big wage differences between rich countries and poor countries. (1994)
“Population Growth and Technological Change: 1,000,000 B.C. to 1990”: “Historically, among societies with no possibility for technological contact, those with larger initial populations have had faster technological change and population growth.” (1994)
“Disorganization”: The departure from central planning in former Soviet Bloc countries “led to decentralized bargaining between supplies and buyers.” When contracts don’t cover all the possible scenarios or when bargainers have imperfect information, and when producing goods requires lots of specialized producers, then production will fall. The data suggest that this happened more in the former Soviet Union than in Central Europe. (with Blanchard; 1997)
“Vouchers for Private Schooling in Colombia: Evidence from a Randomized Natural Experiment”: “Colombia used lotteries to distribute vouchers which partially covered the cost of private secondary school for students who maintained satisfactory academic progress.” Three years later, winners were less likely to have repeated classes and had higher test scores. (with Angrist et al.; 2002)
“Worms: Identifying Impacts on Education and Health in the Presence of Treatment Externalities”: Providing school-based “mass treatment” for worms (i.e., treat all the kids instead of testing each kid) reduced absenteeism by a quarter and also had benefits for untreated kids, even in other schools, since they no longer got worms from the treated kids. (with Miguel, 2004)
“Missing in Action: Teacher and Health Worker Absence in Developing Countries”: When surveyors show up unannounced at schools and health clinics in Bangladesh, Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Peru, and Uganda, they find—on average—that “about 19 percent of teachers and 35 percent of health workers were absent.” Absenteeism is higher in poorer regions. (with Chaudhury et al., 2006).
“Schools, Teachers, and Education Outcomes in Developing Countries”: “A challenge for the future is to integrate randomized evaluations with theory to shed light on issues of more general interest. In particular, evaluating various school reform initiatives is likely to shed light on more general issues of incentive and political economy.” (with Glewwe, 2006)
“The Illusion of Sustainability”: Remember that deworming program in “Worms”? Well, if you try to get people to pay for the deworming medication—even at a heavily reduced price—take-up falls by 80 percent. Health education didn’t work as a substitute and asking people to commit to purchase deworming meds also had no impact. Sometimes, if you want really people to do something, you just have to give it away for free! (with Miguel, 2004)
“Use of Randomization in the Evaluation of Development”: “Current evaluation practices often encounter problems that prevent them from effectively determining program impact, and … there is considerable scope for greater use of randomized evaluation methods in addressing these problems.” (with Duflo, 2008)
“Using Randomization in Development Economics Research: A Toolkit”: “A practical guide (a toolkit) for researchers, students and practitioners wishing to introduce randomization as part of a research design in the field.” (with Duflo and Glennerster, 2008)
“How High Are Rates of Return to Fertilizer? Evidence from Field Experiments in Kenya”: For farmers, using fertilizer is highly profitable. But relatively few farmers use it. But there is a solution! “Offering farmers the option to buy fertilizer (at the full market price, but with free delivery) immediately after the harvest leads to an increase of at least 33 percent in the proportion of farmers using fertilizer, an effect comparable to that of a 50 percent reduction in the price of fertilizer.” (with Duflo and Robinson) Personal note: As a graduate student research assistant, I helped to set up this experiment. You can find me in the acknowledgements.
“Many Children Left Behind? Textbooks and Test Scores in Kenya”: Providing textbooks to students in Kenya—via a randomized controlled trial—had no effect on average student performance, but it did improve performance of the best students, probably because the textbooks were written in English, which only the best students could read. (with Glewwe and Moulin, 2009)
“Incentives to Learn”: The promise of merit scholarships for Kenyan schoolgirls increased learning for girls likely to win but also for girls with little chance, and even for boys. Teachers attended school more as well. (with Miguel and Thornton, 2009)
“Teacher Incentives”: “A randomized trial of a program that rewarded Kenyan primary school teachers based on student test scores, with penalties for students not taking the exams” showed that students did better on the test used to determine the rewards but not on student dropout rates or on other, unrelated exams. Test prep sessions went up, but teacher attendance didn’t. (with Glewwe and Ilias, 2010)
“Peer Effects and the Impacts of Tracking: Evidence from a Randomized Evaluation in Kenya”: “To the extent that students benefit from high-achieving peers,” grouping students by ability (or “tracking”) “will help strong students and hurt weak ones. However, all students may benefit if tracking allows teachers to better tailor their instruction level.” In an experiment with tracking in Kenya, “while the direct effect of high-achieving peers is positive, tracking benefited lower-achieving pupils indirectly by allowing teachers to teach at their level.” (with Duflo and Dupas, 2011).
“Nudging Farmers to Use Fertilizer: Theory and Experimental Evidence from Kenya”: “Many farmers in Western Kenya fail to take advantage of apparently profitable fertilizer investments, but they do invest in response to small, time-limited discounts on the cost of acquiring fertilizer (free delivery) just after harvest.” (with Duflo and Robinson, 2011)
“School Governance, Teacher Incentives, and Pupil-Teacher Ratios: Experimental Evidence from Kenyan Primary Schools”: Schools in Kenya were selected at random to hire “an additional teacher on an annual contract renewable conditional on performance.” Students who stayed with teachers on regular contracts saw no learnings gains despite dramatically smaller classes, but students with the locally-hired contract teachers showed test score improvements. (with Duflo and Dupas, 2015)
But wait, that’s not all you’ve won! Kremer’s next set of publications—his “gold hits”—range from his innovative work on encouraging the development of vaccines for diseases that principally afflict the poor to peer effects among university students.
“Patent Buyouts: A Mechanism for Encouraging Innovation”: If governments purchased patents for innovation based on the private value (plus a little more to cover the value to society), they could eliminate “wasteful ‘me too’ research,” increase incentives for original innovation, and lower prices. Try it with pharmaceuticals. (1998)
“Income Distribution Dynamics with Endogenous Fertility”: In countries where educated people have fewer kids who get more education than less educated people who have more kids who get less education, inequality can get worse and worse. But “in some circumstances, temporarily increasing access to educational opportunities could permanently reduce inequality.” (with Chen, 2002)
“Pharmaceuticals and the Developing World”: “Pharmaceuticals have brought tremendous health improvements to developing countries. The international community could greatly increase these benefits by implementing systems to provide better access to existing pharmaceuticals and to manage their use, as well as by investing in the global public good of R&D on diseases that disproportionately affect the poor. Developing countries could redirect their health budgets away from salaries and toward cost-effective public health measures, such as vaccination and school-based control of intestinal worms, and could explore institutional reforms for health care delivery.” (2002)
“Randomized Evaluations of Educational Programs in Developing Countries: Some Lessons”: “School participation can be increased substantially by inexpensive health programs, by reducing the cost of school to households, or by providing meals.” The problems that “randomized evaluations are designed to address are real and…randomized evaluations are feasible. They are no more costly than other types of surveys, and are far cheaper than pursuing ineffective policies. So why then are they so rare?” (2003)
Strong Medicine: Creating Incentives for Pharmaceutical Research on Neglected Diseases: In Kremer’s only book to date, he and Glennerster “offer an innovative yet simple solution to this worldwide problem: ‘Pull’ programs to stimulate research. Here’s how such programs would work. Funding agencies would commit to purchase viable vaccines if and when they were developed.” (with Glennerster, 2004)
“Retrospective vs. Prospective Analyses of School Inputs: The Case of Flip Charts in Kenya”: If you just compare schools in Kenya that have flip charts to those that don’t, it looks like flip charts make a big difference to learning. But when you use a randomized trial to test the same thing, you see that they have no impact at all. (with Glewwe et al.)
“Peer Effects in Drug Use and Sex Among College Students”: “Males who reported binge drinking in high school drink much more in college if assigned a roommate who also binge drank in high school than if assigned a nonbinge-drinking roommate.” (with Duncan et al., 2005)
“Teacher Absence in India: A Snapshot”: “Twenty‐five percent of teachers were absent from school, and only about half were teaching, during unannounced visits to a nationally representative sample of government primary schools in India.” It was higher in poorer states and lower for schools with better infrastructure, that had a recent inspection, or that were closer to a paved road. (with Chaudhury et al., 2005)
“Odious Debt”: “Trade sanctions are often criticized as ineffective because they create incentives for evasion or as harmful to the target country's population. Loan sanctions, in contrast, … could protect the population from being saddled with ‘odious debt’ run up by looting or repressive dictators.” (with Jayachandran, 2006)
“Long-Term Educational Consequences of Secondary School Vouchers: Evidence from Administrative Records in Colombia”: School vouchers in Colombia “increased secondary school completion rates by 15-20 percent” and also raised test scores. (with Angrist and Bettinger, 2006)
“What Works in Fighting Diarrheal Diseases in Developing Countries? A Critical Review”: “The Millennium Development Goals call for reducing by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water… Among environmental interventions, handwashing and point-of-use water treatment both reduce diarrhea, although more needs to be learned about ways to encourage households to take up these behavior changes.” (with Zwane, 2007)
“Peer Effects and Alcohol Use among College Students”: At a “large state university, “males who were assigned roommates who drank alcohol prior to college obtained on average a lower grade point average than those assigned to nondrinking roommates. In contrast, we found no effect of roommates’ academic or socioeconomic background on grade point averages.” (with Levy, 2008)
“Estimating the Impact of the Hajj: Religion and Tolerance in Islam’s Global Gathering”: What is the impact on Muslims of making the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca? It “increases observance of global Islamic practices, such as prayer and fasting, while decreasing participation in localized practices and beliefs, such as the use of amulets and dowry. It increases belief in equality and harmony among ethnic groups and Islamic sects and leads to more favorable attitudes toward women, including greater acceptance of female education and employment. Increased unity within the Islamic world is not accompanied by antipathy toward non-Muslims.” (with Clingingsmith and Khwaja, 2009)
“Public-Private Schools in Rural India”: Private schools in India pay teachers one-fifth what public schools do, but the pupil-teacher ratio is better and teachers actually teach more. “Efforts to improve the quality of education in India should consider the private as well as public sector – especially since the former are disproportionately located where the public system is failing.” (with Muralidharan, 2009)
“Early-Life Malaria Exposure and Adult Outcomes: Evidence from Malaria Eradication in India”: A malaria eradication program in the 1950s increased incomes for men but not their education. The effects on income were bigger for men than for women; whether the program affected women’s education is less clear. (with Cutler et al., 2010)
“Spring Cleaning: Rural Water Impacts, Valuation and Property Rights Institutions”: Investments to protect water springs in Kenya reduced “fecal contamination by 66%” but the water often gets recontaminated at home. Still, child diarrhea falls by a quarter. If you ask people to put a price on how much they value this, the price they say is higher than what they reveal through how far they’re willing to travel to get the water. (with Leino et al., 2011)
“The Challenge of Education and Learning in the Developing World”: “Across many different contexts, randomized evaluations find that school participation is sensitive to costs: Reducing out-of-pocket costs, merit scholarships, and conditional cash transfers all increase schooling… Pedagogical reforms that match teaching to students’ learning levels are highly cost effective at increasing learning.” (with Brannen and Glennerster, 2013)
In Kremer’s slightly less cited “hits” (still cited between 7 and 16 times per year since publication!), we find more of Kremer’s work on education and health, along with models about the spread of HIV, workers’ self-control problems, and why small shopkeepers miss out on profits.
“Research on Schooling: What We Know and What We Don't: A Comment on Hanushek”: “The limited available evidence suggests that expenditure affects school quality and that we can be fairly confident that supplying particular inputs, such as radio education and textbooks, will improve school quality. I also argue that we have insufficient evidence to conclude that quality should be a higher priority than ensuring that schools are available for more children.” (1995)
“Integrating Behavioral Choice into Epidemiological Models of the AIDS Epidemic”: If the risk of getting HIV is high, then people who already have little sexual activity may reduce it further, whereas people with high activity may grow fatalistic (as in, “I’m likely already affected, so why worry?!”) and reduce it less or even increase it. In that case, if you supposed that “people choose sexual partners randomly from a bar,” then the chance of coupling with a high-risk person grows dramatically. (1996) Steven Landsburg wrote a popular piece based on this one: “More Sex Is Safer Sex.”
“How Much Does Sorting Increase Inequality?”: When people pick neighbors or spouses who are similarly educated, does it increase inequality? Less than you might think. (1997)
“Searching for Prosperity”: Consider “a model in which countries search among policies until they reach an income level at which further experimentation is too costly. If countries can learn from each other's experience, the future may be much brighter” than historical models would have predicted. (with Onatski and Stock, 2001)
“Creating Markets for New Vaccines: Part I – Rationale”: “Private firms currently conduct little research on vaccines against malaria, tuberculosis, and the strains of HIV common in Africa. This is not only because these diseases primarily affect poor countries, but also because vaccines are subject to severe market failures.” If the government commits in advance to compensate private vaccine developers, the incentives improve. (2001)
“Why Are Teachers Absent? Probing Service Delivery in Peruvian Primary Schools”: Teachers in Peru were absent 11 percent of the time. Absenteeism is higher in areas with “poor working conditions, such as poorer communities and infrastructure; teachers with fewer ties to the school's community; contract teaching; and, perhaps, an absence of private competition.” (with Alcázar et al., 2006)
“Advance Market Commitments for Vaccines against Neglected Diseases: Estimating Costs and Effectiveness”: “The G8 is considering committing to purchase vaccines against diseases concentrated in low-income countries (if and when desirable vaccines are developed) as a way to spur research and development on vaccines for these diseases… we document that a commitment comparable in value to sales earned by the average of a sample of recently launched commercial products (adjusted for lower marketing costs) would be a highly cost-effective way to address HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.” (with Berndt et al., 2007)
“Outside Funding and the Dynamics of Participation in Community Associations”: “Many policy initiatives aim to build civic participation among the disadvantaged by funding local community associations.” Doing that with women’s community associations in Kenya didn’t strengthen the organizations, but it did lead “younger, more educated, and better-off women to enter the groups… The departure of older women, the most socially marginalized demographic group, increased substantially.” (with Gugerty, 2008)
“Incentives in Markets, Firms, and Governments”: Here’s a theory—business executives may need strong incentives to perform, but those incentives can lead them to invest in “bad effort,” just making it look like performance is good. A firm structure, where not everyone can see everyone else’s effort, might actually help. In some cases, the government may need to step in. (with Acemoglu and Mian, 2008)
“Improving Education in the Developing World: What Have We Learned from Randomized Evaluations?”: “Reductions in education costs and provision of subsidies can boost school participation, often dramatically… Merit scholarships, school health programs, and information about returns to education can all cost-effectively spur school participation. However, … weak teacher incentives and elite-oriented curricula … undermine learning in school and much of the impact of increasing existing educational spending. Pedagogical innovations designed to address these distortions (such as technology-assisted instruction, remedial education, and tracking by achievement) can raise test scores at a low cost.” (with Holla, 2009)
“Pricing and Access: Lessons from Randomized Evaluations in Education and Health”: “Randomized evaluations across a variety of settings suggest prices have a large impact on take-up of education and health products and services.” Peer effects seem to matter too, so the change in how much people buy is even bigger than the sum of individual responses. (with Holla, 2009)
“Self-Control and the Development of Work Arrangements”: Most studies of how productive workers are focus on workers’ skills, their incentives, and the technology they have access to. But what about workers’ self-control problems? Workers in an Indian firm voluntarily chose pay structures that set targets for themselves, thus imposing a cost on themselves if they didn’t work hard enough. (with Kaur and Mullainathan, 2010)
“Are Educational Vouchers Only Redistributive?”: An open question is whether school vouchers actually improve learning by giving kids access to better teaching or by giving voucher winners access to smarter peers, hurting the kids left behind. In Colombia, “vouchers improved educational outcomes through channels beyond redistribution of desirable peers.” (with Bettinger and Saavedra, 2010)
“Providing Safe Water: Evidence from Randomized Evaluations”: “Water treatment can cost-effectively reduce reported diarrhea. However, many consumers have low willingness to pay for cleaner water; few households purchase household water treatment under retail models. Free point-of-collection water treatment systems designed to make water treatment convenient and salient can generate take-up of approximately 60% at a projected cost as low as $20 per year of life saved, comparable to vaccine costs.” (with Ahuja and Zwane, 2010)
“Improving Health in Developing Countries: Evidence From Randomized Evaluations”: When it comes to paying to prevent infectious diseases, “consumer use of cost-effective products for prevention and non-acute care is highly sensitive to price and convenience.” (with Glennerster, 2011)
“Behavioral Biases and Firm Behavior: Evidence from Kenyan Retail Shops”: Shopkeepers who take more risks in a laboratory game and those who do better on a math test both hold larger inventories in their shops. This matters because fear of loss may keep shopkeepers from profits. (with Lee et al., 2013)
As you’ll know from the music industry, B-sides are lesser known than the hits, but that’s where you’ll find some of the best, under-the-radar music. That’s what you’ll find here: Kremer’s work on poaching in Africa, social capital, refugees, and unions, plus more of his work on vaccine commitments.
“Why Isn't Convergence Instantaneous? Young Workers, Old Workers, and Gradual Adjustment”: If the education and skills of old workers and young workers complement each other (rather than being easy to substitute for each other), then incentives rise for both generations to invest in education and skills. “The better the professors in the last generation, the greater the incentive to become a research assistant, and the better the next generation of research assistants, the greater the incentive to become a professor.” (with Thomson, 1998)
“The effect of changing sexual activity on HIV prevalence”: “Reductions in [sexual] partner change by those with low sexual activity increase the average probability of HIV infection in the remaining pool of available partners. This…may increase long-run prevalence in the population as a whole.” (with Morcom, 1998)
“Elephants”: If people think elephants will be even rarer in the future, then prices on storable elephant-derived products (like ivory) might rise, driving more poaching. “The cheapest way for governments to” avoid extinction “may be to commit to tough antipoaching measures if the population falls below a threshold.” But when governments can’t credibly commit to that, then the right strategy might be to stockpile the good and then “threaten to sell it” if the population gets too low. (with Morcom, 2000)
“Creating Markets for New Vaccines: Part II – Design Issues”: This gets into the nitty gritty of what an advance commitment for vaccines would look like. “If donors pledge approximately $250 million per year for each vaccine for ten years, vaccine purchases would cost approximately $10 per year of life saved. No funds would be spent or pledges called unless a vaccine were developed.” (2001)
“The Impact of Development Assistance on Social Capital: Evidence from Kenya”: Did outside funding intended to strengthen women’s groups in Kenya build social capital (by increasing group participation or people’s time and money investments in the group)? Nope. Did grants to school committees build social capital? Nope. What about giving textbooks to schools? Surprisingly yes. (with Gugerty, 2002)
“Regional Public Goods and Health in Latin America”: “The vast majority of the benefits of disease control are realized within national borders, but … knowledge about health problems and policy issues relevant to Latin America is a key health-related regional public good.” (with Leino, 2004)
“Encouraging Private Sector Research for Tropical Agriculture”: Advance commitments by governments don’t just work for vaccines; they can work for agricultural research, too! “To encourage private R&D in tropical agriculture, traditional funding of research may be usefully supplemented by a commitment to reward developers of specific new agricultural technologies. Rewards tied to adoption may be especially useful in increasing up-take.” (with Zwane, 2005)
“Advance Market Commitments: A Policy to Stimulate Investment in Vaccines for Neglected Diseases”: Okay, we’re back to advance market commitments for vaccines, but now it looks like the G8 finance ministers are actually planning to pilot it. (with Barder and Williams, 2006)
“Public Policies to Stimulate Development of Vaccines for Neglected Diseases”: “A vaccine commitment has considerable appeal across the ideological spectrum as a market-oriented mechanism that brings the resources and inventiveness of the private sector to the fight against diseases disproportionately killing some of the world's poorest people.” (2006)
“Creating Markets for Vaccines”: “If a desired vaccine is developed, an advance purchase commitment would be an extremely cost-effective expenditure from a public health perspective, saving more lives than virtually any comparable health expenditure.” This article lays out “the key issues involved with how advance purchase commitments can be designed to ‘create markets’ for vaccines against diseases like HIV which are concentrated in poor countries.” (with Glennerster and Williams, 2006)
“Empathy or Antipathy? The Consequences of Racially and Socially Diverse Peers on Attitudes and Behaviors”: “Compared with white students who have white roommates, white students with black roommates express much more positive attitudes regarding affirmative action policies 1½- 3½ years after college entry.” (with Duncan et al., 2006)
“A Biological Model of Unions”: Does evolutionary biology have something to teach us about unions? Unions that do exactly what their workers want may be displaced by unions that demand less from the firms that employ their workers (allowing the firms to survive longer). In that case, unions “that allow leaders to depart from members’ preferences may have” an advantage. (with Olken, 2009)
“Deworming and Development: Asking the Right Questions, Asking the Questions Right”: A recent systematic review calls into question the benefits of deworming. But many deworming studies don’t correct for externalities (the fact that treating kids even reduces worms in the untreated kids), measure cognitive outcomes well, or deal with attrition (children who drop from the sample). Studies that deal with these challenges do find impacts. (with Bundy et al., 2009)
“Teacher Incentives in the Developing World”: “Many students in developing countries score very low on standardized tests, and one potential explanation is the weak incentives faced by teachers, as evidenced by their very high absence rates… One promising and politically feasible policy is hiring additional contract teachers locally outside the civil service system.” (with Glewwe and Holla, 2009)
“Economic transformation, population growth and the long-run world income distribution”: Here’s a model of trade which brings in the importance of population. “China's development may hurt developing countries in the short-run, but improves their long-run prospects.” (with Chamon, 2009)
“The Economics of International Refugee Law”: “Reforms in which wealthy states paid poor states to resettle refugees from other poor states would create positive externalities on third countries.” (with Bubb and Levine, 2011)
You may not have heard of these studies, but don’t miss out! Here, Kremer contributes to work on the links between Asian growth and African development, the role of the World Bank, how surveys—all by themselves—affect people’s behavior, migration, and the case for government intervention in public health crises.
“Good Policy or Good Luck? Country Growth Performance and Temporary Shocks”: “Shocks, especially those to terms of trade, play a large role in explaining variance in growth.” (with Easterly et al., 1994)
“AIDS: The Economic Rationale for Public Intervention”: “Many economists believe that too many resources have been invested in the fight against AIDS… Even in those cases in which the risk of contracting AIDS is assumed voluntarily, there is a theoretical case for government intervention in the AIDS epidemic.” (1998)
“Improving School Quality in Developing Countries”: “Many economists believe that human capital is essential to long-run growth. The importance of the topic calls out for further empirical research using randomized evaluations and plausible instruments for variation in school inputs, as well as for theoretical and empirical work on school governance.” (2000)
“Does Favorable Tax-Treatment of Housing Reduce Equipment Investment?”: Some people say low tax rates on housing that you both own and live in will divert resources from other, non-housing investments. But under certain conditions, “low housing taxes encourage renters to become owner-occupiers,” leading existing owner-occupiers to invest in things other than houses. (with Broadbent, 2001)
“Elephants: A Reply”: Other researchers are arguing that governments might “kill off all their elephants” to “secure the end of the ban on ivory trading.” And they worry that if governments hold stockpiles of ivory (as proposed in “Elephants”), that incentive may grow. Kremer and Morcom come back with five reasons that’s unlikely. (with Morcom, 2003)
“An Ivory-Tower Take on the Ivory Trade: Response to De Alessi”: Another researcher thinks the assumptions in “Elephants” are wrong. Kremer hits back: “Saying that ivory does not have a market value because it is illegal is equivalent to saying that marijuana does not have a market value because it is illegal.” (2004)
“Statist Quo Bias: Rejoinder to De Alessi”: Oh, we’re still not done with elephants! This other researcher criticizes “Elephants” “as not saying anything about the real world. Our argument is that in the real world prices of storable goods like ivory are influenced by expectations of the future. De Alessi presents no evidence that this is incorrect, rather he simply asserts that the paper is not about the real world.” Proof by assertion is shut down! (2004)
“On How to Improve World Health”: “In a forthcoming book… Rachel Glennerster and I argue that foreign-aid donors should issue advance contracts committing to finance purchases of needed products such as malaria vaccines.” (2004)
“‘Measuring Poverty’: Discussion”: “It’s not clear that trends in income for the world’s poor shed much light on the dispute over globalization or on the impact of growth on poverty, because many other factors— from technological change to global warming to AIDS—are affecting the incomes of the world’s poor.” (2005)
“Incentives for research on neglected diseases”: Kremer and Glennerster wrote a book on “creating incentives for pharmaceutical research on neglected diseases.” A critic proposes an alternative: reducing intellectual property rights. K&G come back strong: “If we think we should move to a system akin to open source software for pharmaceuticals, why should we do so just for products for the poor? If the system is not good enough for rich countries, why is it good enough for poor countries?” (with Glennerster, 2005)
“The price of Life”: “One way to encourage the development of products that low-income countries need is for international organizations, national governments, and private foundations to guarantee a market for desired vaccines.” (with Glennerster and Williams, 2005)
“Globalization of Labor Markets and Inequality”: Okay, there’s a standard way people think about how immigration affects inequality, but here Kremer discusses two new models – both by him with co-authors – on how to think about inequality in poor countries and on inequality in rich countries. (2006)
“The Missing Mandate: Global Public Goods”: “Global public goods are those for which a large share of the benefit cannot be contained within a single country… The World Bank, armed now with grant instruments in addition to loans, is in a unique position to support the creation and maintenance of these goods.” (2006)
“Asian Growth and African Development”: “Since World War II, integration with the world economy has arguably been the chief route from poverty to wealth.” It’s worked for a bunch of Asian countries, but “no mainland sub-Saharan African country has experienced this type of transformation… Forecasts for Africa…tend to be bleak. We consider whether it is possible to construct a model, consistent with the data, which supports a more optimistic view.” (with Chamon, 2006)
“Incentivizing Education: Adding to the Toolkit”: “Prizes, such as those recently offered by the X-Prize Foundation, have been successful in spurring research, but have typically targeted demonstration projects rather than innovations capable of being used at scale. To spur the creation of products for widespread use, the design of prizes could be usefully extended by conditioning rewards on a market test.” (with Williams, 2010)
“The Risk of Asking: Being Surveyed Can Affect Later Behavior”: Across “the three health experiments, … [just] being surveyed increases use of water treatment products and take-up of medical insurance.” (with Zwane et al., 2011)
Publications from the last few years haven’t had as much time for other papers to cite them, so I’ve pulled out the twenty most recent publications. Some of these have already been influential (made possible because they circulated as working papers prior to publication): Research on the long-run impact of deworming in Kenya, workers’ self-control challenges in India, and reducing HIV and early pregnancy among Kenyan adolescent girls have all been cited more than a hundred times.
“Commentary: Deworming Externalities and Schooling Impacts in Kenya: a Comment on Aiken et al. (2015) and Davey et al. (2015)”: Two sets of researchers re-analyzed the data from “Worms” – “We interpret the evidence from the reanalysis as strongly supporting the findings of positive deworming treatment externalities and school participation impacts.” (with Hicks and Miguel, 2015)
“Preventives vs. Treatments”: “Vaccines, but not drugs, are less likely to be developed for diseases with substantial risk heterogeneity.” (with Snyder, 2015)
“When Should Governments Subsidize Health? The Case of Mass Deworming”: “The economic benefits of school-based deworming programs are likely to exceed their costs in places where worm infestations are endemic.” (with Ahuja et al., 2015)
“Education, HIV, and Early Fertility: Experimental Evidence from Kenya”: Education subsidies reduce adolescent girls’ dropout, pregnancy, and marriage but not sexually transmitted infection… The government’s HIV curriculum, which stresses abstinence until marriage, does not reduce pregnancy or STI.” (with Duflo and Dupas, 2015)
“The Case for Mass Treatment of Intestinal Helminths in Endemic Areas”: “Existing evidence still indicates that mass deworming is a cost-effective health investment for governments in low-income countries where worm infections are widespread.” (with Hicks and Miguel, 2015)
“Self Control at Work”: “Workers with self-control problems do not work as hard as they would like.” In a firm in India, workers choose contracts that penalize low performance but don’t offer reward for high performance 36 percent of the time! Workers also work harder as they get closer to payday. “Self-control problems among workers could potentially lead firms to either adopt high-powered incentives or impose work rules to allow monitoring of worker effort.” (with Kaur and Mullainathan, 2015)
“The New Role of the World Bank”: The World Bank began with the goal of making sure poor countries had access to loans. “We will argue that modern analyses should proceed from the premise that the Bank’s central goal is and should be to reduce extreme poverty… The role of the Bank is now best understood as facilitating international agreements to reduce poverty.” (with Clemens, 2016)
“Education as Liberation?”: “A randomized girls’ merit scholarship incentive program in Kenya” led young women to be “less likely to accept domestic violence.” It also “increased objective political knowledge, and reduced acceptance of political authority,” but that didn’t “translate into greater perceived political efficacy, community participation, or voting intentions.” (with Friedman et al., 2016)
“Guns, Latrines and Land Reform: Private Expectations and Public Policy”: Let’s say a government wants people to invest in latrines because currently they’re defecating in unhealthy spots. So the government offers a subsidy for latrine building. But if people think the subsidies may increase over time, then they may wait to build a latrine. So the subsidies may only work if governments can commit. (with Willis, 2016)
“Worms at Work: Long-Run Impacts of a Child Health investment”: “Ten years after deworming treatment, men who were eligible as boys stay enrolled for more years of primary school, work 17% more hours each week, spend more time in non-agricultural self-employment, are more likely to hold manufacturing jobs, and miss one fewer meal per week. Women who were in treatment schools as girls are approximately one quarter more likely to have attended secondary school, halving the gender gap.” (with Baird et al., 2016)
“Commentary: Assessing long-run deworming impacts on education and economic outcomes: a comment on Jullien, Sinclair and Garner”: Researchers critiqued the reliability of “Worms at Work”, and the authors come back. “The decision to fund mass deworming should be based on comparing its expected costs and benefits, so even a small probability that the effects in [“Worms at Work”] are present would make the cost effectiveness analysis favourable.”
“Targeting health subsidies through a non-price mechanism: A randomized controlled trial in rural Kenya”: Giving preventative health products for free means more people get them, but it may also mean that people take them who don’t plan to use them. Charging a fee weeds out poor people who would actually use it, but a non-monetary cost—making people redeem a voucher to get the product—weeds out people who wouldn’t have used it anyway. (with Dupas et al., 2016)
“Contract Farming and Agricultural Productivity in Western Kenya”: Among Kenyan sugarcane farmers, agricultural yields are bigger for smaller plots, probably because they work harder (per square acre) on small plots. Set-ups where farmers are contracted to produce allow large-scale benefits for processing but still lets farmers work their land intensively. (with Casaburi and Mullainathan, 2016)
“Success in Entrepreneurship: Doing the Math”: Among retail firms in western Kenya, “firm owners with higher math scores earn higher profits,” even after you account for how much inventory they hold. (with Robinson and Rostapshova, 2016)
“More Evidence on the Effects of Deworming: What Lessons Can We Learn?”: A study of deworming in rural China found no impact on “nutrition, cognition, or school performance… The expected benefits of deworming” clearly depend on how common worms are, “so simple logic suggests that MDA [mass drug administration of deworming pills] is inappropriate in populations with low enough prevalence and appropriate in populations with high enough prevalence.” (with Croke and Hsu, 2017)
“Should the WHO withdraw support for mass deworming?”: “We believe that the expected benefits of deworming are likely to greatly exceed the cost, and that the long-standing support of WHO and other international donors and organizations for mass deworming remains scientifically justified.” (with Croke et al., 2017)
“Economics of Mass Deworming Programs”: “The impact of deworming will vary with the local context—including circumstances such as type of worm, worm prevalence and intensity, comorbidity, the extent of school participation in the community, and labor market factors. The decision to expend resources on deworming should be based on a comparison of expected benefits and costs, given the available evidence.” (with Ahuja et al., 2017)
“Preventives versus Treatments Redux: Tighter Bounds on Distortions in Innovation Incentives with an Application to the Global Demand for HIV Pharmaceuticals”: “Preventives vs. Treatments” showed that the economics of developing pharmaceuticals for preventive health products is very different from those for health treatments. This paper shows that the problem is really bad. (with Snyder, 2018)
“Behavioral Development Economics”: “Behavioral development economics applies theories and ideas from psychology and behavioral economics to the study of questions in development economics.” Among other topics, “we argue that firms in developing countries are more likely to deviate from profit maximization and studying ‘behavioral firms’ in developing countries is a promising new agenda for research.” (with Rao and Schilbach, 2019)
“Using Randomized Controlled Trials to Estimate Long-Run Impacts in Development Economics”: “The coming years provide an exceptional opportunity for development economists to make intellectual progress in understanding the underlying determinants of long-run living standards by exploiting the large number of development RCTs that have been conducted since the late 1990s.” (with Bouguen et al., 2019)
Reviewing Kremer’s extensive body of work, here are three reflections.
Clarity of writing: I summarize a lot of economics research. Many times, I read the abstract or the introduction of a study and I cannot figure out what the study is really about or why it’s important. In the review above, I often clipped directly from Kremer’s studies, and the reason is that his abstracts, introductions, and conclusions are very clear on what the studies do and why they matter. Most of the summarizing I did was in the case of more technical and theoretical papers. Kremer’s work provides a great example of explaining one’s research well.
Depth: There are several topics into which Kremer has delved deeply. One is how to create incentives for pharmaceutical companies to develop vaccines for diseases that mostly affect people in poor countries; another is the value of deworming schoolchildren in areas where worms are common. From his CV, I count 14 publications on incentives for vaccines (including one book) and 11 publications or working papers on deworming. In both cases, Kremer fleshes out different aspects of the research for different audiences, publishing in economics journals, public health journals, chapters in books, and general interest journals (like Foreign Policy). In both cases, Kremer’s work has been instrumental in affecting policy change, and beyond the research, Kremer has been involved in policy discussions with both donors and governments in developing countries. (For the vaccine work, he even co-chaired a working group here at the Center for Global Development.) Of course, his work on advancing randomized experiments as a way to learn about the effectiveness of interventions is the most obvious example, with many publications (12 of his 17 top-cited publications) either promoting or demonstrating the method.
It can be tempting to write a paper on a topic and move on, but Kremer’s work shows that to affect change can require more enduring, detailed engagement.
Breadth: Kremer has incredibly wide interests. He puts the tools of economics to use to examine health and education, sure, but also poaching and housing and agriculture and aid and many more topics. In education (as well as health), he has worked on a wide range of sub-topics: teacher incentives, textbooks, student scholarships, school-based health programs, vouchers, teacher absenteeism, and school meals. Having directly researched so many topics, he has written many influential review pieces on education, pulling together his research and that of other scholars. You can see inspiration from one topic spill over to another, such as when his proposal to use advance commitments to promote innovation in agriculture learns from earlier work on vaccines.
You can find the full list of Kremer’s publications yourself here, and he provides links to most of the recent papers here. Many thanks to Amina Mendez Acosta for essential background work identifying studies, tracking down open-access versions, and finding citation counts. And I’ll close with a disclosure: Kremer was my advisor during my Ph.D., and I’ve been very grateful for insightful guidance both then and subsequently.
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.