By Harihar Swarup
Indian-American Abhijit Banerjee, who has won the 2019 Nobel for Economics, along with his Esther Duflo (his economist wife) and Michael Kremer, has observed the Indian economy is on a shaky ground. The data recently available do not hold any assurance for the country’s economic survival anytime soon, he stated. “In the last five years, at least, we could witness some growth but now that assurance is also gone”, Banerjee told a news channel.
Banerjee, an internationally renowned economist and an alumnus of the prestigious Presidency College, Kalkota, is currently the Ford Foundation International Professor of Economics at the US-based Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Banerjee was born in 1961 in Mumbai, bagged the award for his “experimental approach to alleviating global poverty”. The 58-year-old economist received his PhD in 1988 from Harvard University. After graduating from Presidency College, Banerjee moved to the Economics Department of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and later went to Harvard.
He is the author of a large number of articles and four books, including Poor Economics, which won the Goldman Sachs Business book of the year Award in 2011, and has been translated into more than 17 languages. Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated Indian-American Abhijit Banerjee on winning the Nobel Prize for economics, saying he has made notable contribution in the field of poverty alleviation.
Congratulating Banerjee, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee tweeted: “Hearty congratulation to Abhijit, an alumnus of South Point School and Presidency College, Calcutta for winning the Nobel Prize in Economics. Another Bengali has done the nation proud. We are overjoyed.”
Son of renowned economist and former Head of Department of Economics at Presidency College, Dipak Banerjee, and Professor Nirmala Banerjee, Abhijit got his initial training in Economics from his parents. “I have read many of his articles, and he has been engaged in poverty alleviation programmes for many years. During his visit to Kolkata, I have often talked with him on this subject along with his spouse Esther. I am very happy that he got the Nobel Prize”, said Nirmala, a proud mother.
Kolkata’s South Point School on its Facebook page wrote: “Many congratulations to Abhijit Banerjee for being one of the recipients this year for this unparalleled honour”.
At 46, the Paris-born Dulfo is the youngest-ever, and the second only woman (after Elinor Ostrom in 2009) to win the Economics Nobel. She was Banerjee’s doctoral student at MIT. Currently, the Ford Foundation International professor of economics at MIT, the 1961-born Banerjee and Duflo are best known for anti-poverty research emphasizing the use of field experiments.
Banerjee is the second Indian to win an Economics Nobel after Amartya Sen, who was a good friend of his father, the late Deepak Banerjee, who headed Presidency’s Economics Department. Sen is reportedly “very, very happy and delighted” at the news.
Banerjee and Duflo co-founded the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, which has helped popularize Randomized Control Trails (RCT), a technique of exploration, which draws from medical research to examine the impact of policy intervention on individual behaviour through controlled trails. It involves selecting two sets of individuals/groups at random, one of the two is then exposed to policy interventions. The experiment examines the impact of such intervention, often over long periods of time to gauge the impact of policy, and whether it justifies the cost associated with it.
Drawing on these field experiments to understand the lives of the poor, they have examined government interventions to see what works and what does not in developing countries. For instance they found it was possible to dramatically increase the quality of education in urban area, at a relatively reasonable cost, through remedial education and computer assisted learning programme. The result of another experiment suggested that multi-topic term strategy for improved health care, while another found that most businesses funded by micro-finance firms tended not to grow. Banerjee, who has been in favour of shifting to cash transfers, has in the past argued for a universal basic income architecture. (IPA Service)