Esther Duflo is having a good month, first the John Bates Clark medal for best economist under 40, and now a new profile in the New Yorker. It’s great to see development economists appearing in the New Yorker (link to abstract, full article alas requires subscription).
Esther is very deserving of this recognition. Anyone who gets hundreds of other academics and researchers approaching things in a new way (“randomized controlled trials” to measure the impact of development projects by comparing treatment and control groups) deserves tremendous credit.
A couple of things I liked about the New Yorker article:
Her childhood view of the poor, Duflo said, was shaped by “Protestant left-wing Sunday School.”
In Duflo’s view, both sides of the Sachs-Easterly argument reflect an unrealistic public desire “for an expert discourse, which is going to be able to tell you: This is going to be the end of poverty.” Duflo…argues that “there is not going to be le grand soir – one day, the big revolution, and the whole world is suddenly not corrupt. But maybe you create a small little virtuous group here and something else there. All these things are incremental.”
What I really did NOT like about the New Yorker article:
It gives short shrift to criticisms of the limits of Randomized Trials, quoting Lant Pritchett and Angus Deaton so briefly that I doubt the general reader will even get the criticism. The article spends more time on a completely inappropriate attack on the tone and alleged “elitism” of these critics than explaining why MANY in economics today feel discomfort with the claims made for Randomized Trials.