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More Than Good Intentions: How a New Economics Is Helping to Solve Global Poverty
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More Than Good Intentions: How a New Economics Is Helping to Solve Global Poverty

3.93  ·  Rating Details ·  637 Ratings  ·  61 Reviews
A leading economist and researcher report from the front lines of a revolution in solving the world's most persistent problem.

When it comes to global poverty, people are passionate and polarized. At one extreme: We just need to invest more resources. At the other: We've thrown billions down a sinkhole over the last fifty years and accomplished almost nothing.

Dean Karl
ebook, 320 pages
Published April 14th 2011 by Penguin Group (USA) (first published April 1st 2011)
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Daniel Tello
Apr 25, 2011 Daniel Tello rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Disclaimer: I received a free copy from the publisher via Goodreads First Reads program.

Team Sachs? Team Easterly? Try Team Evidence. It might not be catchy, but it is definitely catching on in the development/aid world. If you are interested in what Team Evidence has to offer there is no better way than Karlan's and Appel's book: More than Good Intentions. The already-proven successful, yet conversational, approach is used in this book to capture readers and explain the fascinating developmen
Jul 27, 2011 Gwenyth rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: global-health
I would probably recommend certain chapters of this book to people to read as alongside other material on the same topic. For example, I liked the chapter on microfinance, and I thought provides the sort of background and commentary on the subject you might if someone was interested in learning a bit about the subject. The section on malaria bed nets did a good job of very simply summarizing the Sachs-Easterly debate and provided a bit of interesting additional evidence.

Probably I would not reco
Excellent book which discusses the nature of charity and poverty, and which programs work best. People do not always act in their most rational interests, and poverty restricts their options even further. The author has done a lot of research and investigation into which programs are the most beneficial, and offers several extremely promising programs in addition to thoroughly detailing the theory behind them. An excellent book.
I didn't know individual U.S. donors donate more than $200 billion every year. And that till recently they didn't even know whether the products (e.g., brilliant microcredit plans) they were investing in were reaching customers, let alone if they worked as intended.

If enough people think about what they're donating to we could actually save the world. I'm not being an idealist here. For e.g., 40 mn people suffer from Trachoma, an effective prognosis like an eye surgery takes $20. So curing the w
May 03, 2012 Jamie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A broad brush stroke of development initiatives supported by randomized control trials, primarily conducted by Innovations for Poverty (IPA). I empathized with the dilemma presented by Peter Singer of our localized and immediate compulsion to give away away money if it was to save a child we could see drowning, but not to save someone remotely in poverty. I particularly liked the willingness of the book to challenge accepted norms.

The book emphasized the need to market and sell development solu
May 09, 2012 Mark rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
Karlan and Appel make a good team. They should do more research of their own.

Most of the research in this book are the same studies that Poor Economics covers. It's slightly more entertainingly written than Esther Duflo and Abhijit Bannerjee's book, but as Karlan is an apprentice of Duflo and Bannerjee, it just seems like a lesser book that you could skip.

I'm a bit skeptical of the value of Karlan's site,, and more than a bit annoyed that he shilled it in the middle of a book on the p
4.5* yeah, this book grew on me. strong information and important studies run to determine true effectiveness of various aspects of development programs focused on a wide-variety of issues, all of which central to addressing major problems of poverty. A smooth, speedy, interesting read on development efforts.
Mar 31, 2011 Lavender marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
I won this book from First Reads giveaway. Should be an interesting read. Thank you.
Jun 03, 2012 Eva rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An intriguing book, academic but with vivid case studies and anecdotes. Some quotes from kindle:

Three billion people, about half the world, live on $2.50 per day. (To be clear, that’s $2.50 adjusted for the cost of living—so think of it as living on the amount of actual goods that you could buy for $2.50 per day in the United States.) - location 156

When you click to fund the woman’s loan, you make a hundred-dollar no-interest loan to Kiva. Kiva then makes a hundred-dollar no-interest loan to the
John Orr
Dec 14, 2016 John Orr rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really interesting book about some very important stuff. The author rambles at times, but generally communicates the key facts very clearly. Worth reading if you are at all interested in the economics and effectiveness of foreign aid programs.
Karlan and Appel have contributed greatly to international development scholarship with this book. They advocate that development programs must 1) robustly evaluate their effectiveness through randomized control trials, and 2) take into account people's irrational (non-economic) behavioral choices. They provide overviews of various programs designed to help improve the lives of the most underserved in developing countries, whether it was to increase purchasing power, improve school attendance, i ...more
Jun 26, 2014 Marit rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Karlan & Appel have created quite a solid and intriguing foray into how economic research can directly improve poverty-relief programs. They use a good balance of illustrative, highly personal anecdotes from their vast experiences and influential, rigorous research studies. Some of the more lyrical prose was actually quite lovely and moving, a style I appreciate in straightforward non-fiction.

Their writing revolves around the ideas that (1) randomized controlled trials (RCT) are key to disc
Apr 13, 2011 Debbie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
"More Than Good Intentions" focused on what programs (or parts of programs) actually achieved their objective of helping the poor. The authors talked about the studies they've done on this and explain their findings about what works, what doesn't, and how various programs might be improved. The authors acknowledge that people don't always act in their long-term best interest, so we need to understand why the poor act in certain ways, modify programs to take that into account, and test those prog ...more
Bea Bezmalinovic
Apr 20, 2015 Bea Bezmalinovic rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The research behind Good Intentions provides useful guidance about how to design effective interventions at the micro-level (e.g. how to get people to save, how to influence people's behaviors to achieve better development outcomes.) This book is one of various that focus on changing micro-habits to achieve greater outcomes. To his credit Kaplan says the book is not for people who design programs, but for interested individuals who give to support them. The book helps them to figure out what to ...more
Laurie Hughes
Aug 28, 2016 Laurie Hughes rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Lauren Coonen
Apr 25, 2016 Lauren Coonen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book makes a strong case for studying any program aimed at reducing poverty with a rigorous evaluation. We should no longer throw money at a problem and assume that with enough resources or enough “good intentions,” that it will have a positive effect. More often than programs that use these approaches can have little effect, and at worst be detrimental. Instead non-profits and governments a like that are designing programs need to invest in a method of studying their effectiveness. The book ...more
Aug 02, 2012 Meepspeeps rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an outstanding critique of programs aimed at helping the poor. They outline well-controlled research studies, often not done by development organizations, or ignored because the results call for certain groups to stop what they are doing or do it very differently. A good example is the microfinance craze, which has come under attack in the mainstream press a bit, but the research here is clear, and also points out how researched effectiveness in one locale doesn't mean the same thing wil ...more
Ko Matsuo
Dec 30, 2015 Ko Matsuo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting book. Per Karlan, Americans donate over $200 billion every year to help the poor. The problem is that no impact is being made. The recent excitement around micro-financing as a solution also misses the point in that it does not offer a way of measuring what tactics actually work.

Karlan describes how his team used randomized control trials (RCTs) to test what had an impact and created a learning mechanism for teams to figure out how micro-financing could help decrease poverty in the w
Aug 09, 2012 Katie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Katie by: Dean Karlan
Shelves: own, nonfiction
In the interests of full disclosure, I worked for Dean Karlan at Innovations for Poverty Action for over three years. During that time I came to realize the value in the evaluations that IPA has been running all over the world. I found this book a good introduction for anyone who is new to the work of development economics and wishes to know more. I was particularly interested in the section about microsavings versus microlending which I think people from any economic background should take note ...more
Jul 07, 2011 Dena rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is about quantifying the results of efforts to combat world poverty so that funds and resources can be used more effectively. This sounds horribly dry and boring but is actually extremely interesting. I'm about half way through the book after about 3 hours.

I just finished the book and I'm very impressed with the ideas in it. This is not a highly technical book with lots of economics jargon and complex mathematics. But if you are interested in helping eliminate world poverty it shows specif
Margaret Sankey
Case studies of the application of behavioral economics to poverty alleviation programs, most of which boil down to a menu of small scale banking and getting people to use mosquito nets, put chlorine in water at dispensing stations and give their kids anti-diarrhea salts correctly. The trick, however, is marketing it appropriately to local conditions (will "rebate" or "matching funds" go over better?), controlling the program agents on the ground for corruption and neglect and avoiding large sca ...more
Although written by two economists, this book is incredibly accessible and relateable. It hits again and again on the importance of monitoring and evaluation in working to find solutions to the complex problems of development. The writing is entertaining, although ultimately a bit simplistic; I would recommend it as a gateway reading to supplement more in-depth texts on the issues of particular interest to someone. Nevertheless, it certainly helped invigorate me even more towards my career goal ...more
Gail Owen
Jul 02, 2015 Gail Owen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: aid, economics
Good introduction to several economic strategies for dealing with poverty throughout the world. It had enough anecdotes throughout to provide the reader with concrete examples of how empirical analysis and behavorial economics can impact efforts to intervene in international development projects.
For me, it was a good chance to look at projects with a different perspective. In the future, I will be looking to support projects that are not afraid to analyze their success and go back to the drawing
Jake puts a human face on microeconomics through engrossing anecdotes from all corners of the world. His writing is insightful, engrossing, and entertaining at the same time. The economics IPA practices is the opposite of the "trickle down, let-them-eat-cake" approach. This book shows offers a gleam of hope that hard-working people can be empowered and not taken advantage of by their bankers -- very significant work these authors are doing.
Fermin Quant
Aug 29, 2015 Fermin Quant rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It starts off a little slow, but at about one third it gets momentum which maintains through to the end. Very interesting book with very interesting results. It explains how just giving money to charity doesn't help on its own, and goes on to explain some cases where successful programs have made them work. It shows the way the world is currently fighting poverty effectively, and his point is that all programs should do so like that.
University of Chicago Magazine
Dean Karlan, MPP’97, MBA’97

From our pages (Mar–Apr/11): "Putting development aid programs to the test, Karlan and Appel studied African, Indian, South American, and Filipino villages to determine the most effective ways to invest in the world’s poorest regions. Using behavioral-economics theories and field interviews, the authors argue that, rather than throwing money at a cause, small changes in banking, insurance, and health care can make the most of international aid."
Deborah Nicol
It's great to contribute money to an organization helping sick women in Guatemala...but how do you know your money is effective? Dean Karlan is president and founder of Innovations for Poverty Action, an organization I have great admiration for because not only do they seek projects for the greater good, but they test them to make sure they actually work. The book reviews various projects in an extremely readable manner and encourages everyone to be critical of methods used to save the world.
Jada Tullos
Sep 26, 2012 Jada Tullos rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economics
Freakonomics lovers will really enjoy this international development book. The book is filled with anecdotes and layperson's explanations of aid effectiveness studies. When it seems like so much aid is distributed without thought for effectiveness and without comprehensive evaluation, this book highlights the work of people filling this gap. I also like that he does a bit of name dropping of people and organizations so you can do some independent research into these studies.
Feb 12, 2013 Romaniagirl rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nice to see someone with a critical eye, willing to wade through the hype of micro-credit - among other things. However, as an evaluator, I had a hard time with his penchant for all this RCT (randomized control trial). To him this was the only form of study which yields any results, which is a fallacy.
This aside, I would still recommend the book to those interested in international development, market forces and poverty.
Susan Zevitz
Apr 16, 2011 Susan Zevitz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm not an economist and found this to be a very interesting book! I couldn't put it down. Impressive, since I prefer fiction to nonfiction. I loved the anecdotal stories. Great information! I can see how the concept of evaluating effectiveness through randomized control trials can be applied to much more. I highly recommend this book to everyone!
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Dean Karlan is a professor of economics at Yale University. He is also president of Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) and a research fellow of the M.I.T. Jameel Poverty Action Lab. He founded and is president of His research has been funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Ford Foundation, Alfred B. Sloan Foundation,, National Science Foundation, World Bank, and ...more
More about Dean Karlan...

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“Find individual programs that work, and support them. Find programs that don’t work, and stop doing them.” 1 likes
“Fundamentally, poverty is a denial of choices and opportunities, a violation of human dignity. It means lack of basic capacity to participate effectively in society.” 0 likes
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