Sunday, 14 April 2013

Randomise this...

On a number of occasions in the last year or so I've had people ask if I'd read Poor Economics - a seminal book that brings together the work and ideas of two prominent economists from MIT - Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banarjee. Usually, the conversation has involved some sort of a statement about how refreshing the book was - a nice move towards looking at "what works" in the world of international development and a move towards a more practical evidence-based approach in economics.
At this point, I have to admit that Esther Duflo was certainly one of the key inspirations for me in choosing to study and carry on with Development Economics. I found the approach she used to cut through much of the often highly ideological arguments that you find out there in many economics papers. I also found Poor Economics to be a nice refreshing read.

So, when I came across this critique of Poor Economics by Sanjay Reddy from the New School (New York), I noticed I was coming at it from a fairly sceptical position, aware of many of the critiques that were out there about Randomised Controlled Trials. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this one goes further and deeper, highlighting a number of limitations of the broad approach taken in Poor Economics, reaching right back to its underlying epistemological basis. 

Needless to say, this one is well worth a read. Beyond simply being a very good critique of Poor Economics, it also makes important reflections about the nature of Development Economics in general and whether the use of RCTs does actually cut through the complexity or simply side-step many important questions that we still need to ask.

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