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Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  12,778 ratings  ·  1,099 reviews
Winner of the 2011 Financial Times/Goldman Sachs Best Business Book of the Year Award

Billions of government dollars, and thousands of charitable organizations and NGOs, are dedicated to helping the world's poor. But much of their work is based on assumptions that are untested generalizations at best, harmful misperceptions at worst.

Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo have pi
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published April 26th 2011 by PublicAffairs
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Ronald Barba
Sep 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Poor Economics doesn't simply offer a unilateral view of how to fight global poverty; rather, this book offers views from both sides of the foreign aid debate (i.e. Sachs v. Easterly) and provides examples of different organizations that have dealt with attacking poverty on both small and large scales.

There are five key takeaways from Poor Economics, with regard to any localized campaigns attempting to improve the lives of the poor:

1) Individuals/communities inherently believe that outside orga
Oct 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fic
So. This is an economics book.

(A rumbling sound is heard as ninety percent of the people reading this review frantically jiggle their mice in an effort to click another link on this page. Any link. Even an ad for laundry detergent.)

Ok, hello to the two remaining readers out there. Thank you for sticking around. I know ‘economics’ is one of the least sexy words in reading, right up there with ‘tax law’ and that economics books are as enticing to most readers as a fat stack of local council permit
Sumirti Singaravel
Mar 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: To all those who wants to understand poverty beyond the cliches

(Note to Self to include this when writing a full blown review for this book).

I recently read an article* published in NY Times on how women economists are NOT recognized for their work when they co-author it with another a male economist. The article goes on to explain how the bias is deep entrenched in the field of economics. Recently, I was having a conversation with a friend, working in the field of finance, on the Indian economy and more particularly about the drought which has hit most sta
Jan 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
This kind of book can be annoying, as popular social science tends to fall into one of two camps. The first are those that just repeat a single idea over an over again (e.g. The Tipping Point). The second are those that simply rehash 101 textbooks, adding a few kooky examples or anecdotes (e.g. The Undercover Economist).

To some extent, this book is vulnerable to both those criticisms. The authors make a big push on the importance of empirical evidence in designing interventions – using randomize
May 05, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, science
Review to come!
Sep 10, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Disappointing. I was very eager to read about rigorous studies that determine what works for fighting poverty. But the authors somehow kept getting off track from this desperately important concept. I still think the work of the Poverty Action Lab is very interesting, but this is just not an exciting book about a "radical rethinking of the way to fight global poverty."

The big five lessons from the authors are:
1. The poor lack information (so tell them the truth artfully)
2. The poor lack control
May 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is one of the best "pop-economics" books I have read in a very long time. Such books typically follow the same recipe: top academic seeks recognition outside the profession and writes the book propounding the theory, enlisting in support loads of evidence consistent with the theory, and curiously brushing off/forgetting to mention most of any evidence even vaguely incompatible with the main argument of the book. The book tends to go on forever repeating the same score in all possible tonali ...more
Feb 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book is not what I thought it was or what it promised it would be in the intro. It is not an economic analysis of poverty. I was thinking it would be more in line with books like scarcity that explain the decisionmaking of poor people as a rational response to circumstances. It had elements of that certainly, but it was a book about development. I didn't love the first half of the book, but I thought the second half or third was very useful. Especially their analysis of micro-credit and oth ...more
Jan 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
I mentioned this book on my blog here,, and now I finally read it!

I'll admit I was a little disappointed that the book wasn't as detailed as her lecture on the actual experiments the Poverty Action Lab has been involved in. There was much more on larger picture topics and brief summaries of experiments and how they contributed to the dialogue on how to address that particular topic within development circles.

That said, it was still a fascinating read and
Ben Thurley
Nov 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
Banerjee and Duflo have written a great book that aims to see poverty as a “set of concrete problems that, once properly identifed and understood, can be solved one at a time.” Using the best economic and observational evidence (often taken from randomised trials) they build a case for what actually works in helping overcome poverty, taking up the fight against what they argue are the biggest barriers – ignorance, ideology and inertia.

It is thoughtful and rigorous, though possibly slightly too t
Mar 14, 2013 rated it it was ok
Full of individual stories about the way the poor cope with their life. I normally classify such books as "sad". Not this one. The book is offering something that I haven't seen in many other books that are dealing with poverty. It is exploring first the left extreme of the spectrum that focuses on collectivism, then the right that is focused on the individualism, and finally tries to put itself somewhere in between. Each side is backed by examples of its supporters. The main heroes of the book ...more
Jan 05, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: empire

[Through my ratings, reviews and edits I'm providing intellectual property and labor to Inc., listed on Nasdaq, which fully owns and in 2013 posted revenues for $74 billion and $274 million profits. Intellectual property and labor require compensation. Inc. is also requested to provide assurance that its employees and contractors' work conditions meet the highest health and safety standards at all the company's sites.]

In the paperback edition the t
Sidharth Vardhan
Probably one of the biggest nemises of all intelligent thought is over-simplification. An easy example is one guy giving a detailed long explanation of something, and another underpnning it by saying "so you are saying ... *Insert a small sentence*". This is most visible in interviews where interviewer seems to sometimes doing it intentionally to save his ignorant, lazy audience the effort of understanding a complex thought.

The trouble is it encourages a dislike for intellectualism - the ignoran
James Van
Apr 25, 2011 rated it it was ok
I thought I was going to love this book, but I didn't really get much out of it.

It was a summary of "some aid is good aid" which I already believe, so I guess the persuasion wasn't attractive to me. The details, though, were mostly things I'd already heard or read. I think watching Esther Duflo's TED talk might give away most of the information and excitement of this book.

If you're wondering why not everyone agrees with "The End of Poverty" then maybe this book would impress you. Or if you're st
Daniella Araujo
Oct 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: public-policy
I was fortunate to have started reading this book authored by the most recent recipients' of the Nobel Prize in Economics before the prize was awarded. Ms Duflo and her husband's work on putting together evidence-based research for mitigating poverty is impressive. I cannot judge the book solely based on their work results, though. The book has appeal, has a nice narrative, but it felt like it jumps a little too quickly to somewhat formulaic rules at the end, as a way of hastily wrapping it all ...more
Mar 01, 2019 added it
Shelves: economics
On one hand, Banerjee and Duflo are quite good at diagnosing the micro-level problems that face the global poor. And this is good -- these are things people need to know about.

On the other hand, they wonder why so many programs espoused by the elites of the world aren't working (you know the kind, the let's-teach-slum-kids-Python-programming kind), and why the do-nothing William Easterly approach isn't working, and why expectations aren't being met. I just want to whisper to them... "the problem
Jun 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
No this is not about how useless economics had become under the hegemony of the Chicago School of Free Market Fundamentalism. This is about the economics of being poor. And refreshingly instead of focusing on the theories of poverty and the decision making of the poor, it is based on large scale, many country research asking those on less than a $1 a day how they make decisions on how they spend their money, what food to eat, what health care to seek, what education to try to get their children. ...more
Fouad Jaber
Sep 15, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: economics
Too broad, too general, it loses its meaning while trying to provide a general theory of poverty.

The best parts were the chapter about poverty traps and the elite nature of educational systems in underdeveloped countries, but the rest was dull.
Jan 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I should have read this book long time ago. Nevertheless, it is still an excellent book to reflect on the big picture of the field of development economics for a student like myself and for anyone who wants to work on making policies that try to help the poor. The complex issue of poverty with all its difficulties that the involved agents face requires a thorough investigation in carefully designed experiments rather than using conventional understanding of how economics works in the more privil ...more
Divya Sornaraja
Apr 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A wonderful book: renders clear understanding on the ground reality of well-intended policies for the welfare of the economically challenged. Reading this book helps one realise the complexity and the gravity of the poverty problem.

Most topics explains how one can’t throw money or random large scale policies as a silver bullet solution. It all boils down to grooming the poverty-stricken and help them understand their rights, power, potential and option of tools to pick and fight.

A must read to
Apr 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I am a new reader of economic books. For someone like me, this book will make you more interested in learning and understanding economics. When I was reading, I came to know a lot of theorists, like Jeffrey Sachs. What I like about this book is it is very easy to understand and well written. If you are a non-economics background, this book will help you to understand what is going on around the so-called third world. Looking forward to the new book of Abhijit Banerjee which would be published at ...more
Jun 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fic
A wonderful read. Instead of trying to find a universal, one-time solutions or principles/formulas like other lame books, this one delivers valuable lessons about working from the bottom up, with specific cases. Very informative and challenging material, yet it could have been better if the book can expand its examples' scope.
Mar 03, 2013 rated it did not like it
I read this for an online development class at MIT taught by the authors. I found the book to be quite steeped in World Bank/IMF views and rather closed off to any alternative ways of seeing. I was disappointed with the book.
Sai Kishore
Dec 26, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
"Economic institutions shape economic incentives,the incentives to become educated,to save and invest,to innovate and adopt new technologies,and so on.Political institution determines the ability to citizens to control politicians" - Acemoglu & Robinson ...more
Jun 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed Banerjee and Duflo's book! They have interacted with most of the major current opinions on the big issues in development thinking: Sachs, Easterly, Collier, etc. But their focus is less on the "right" aka perfect way to set up and improve the big institutions, and more on what is actually provably working and not working in the field and why.

In their own words, "The positions that most rich-country experts take on issues related to development aid or poverty tend to be colored
Shur'tugal Argetlam
May 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Poverty is not just a lack of money; it is not having the capability to realize one's full potential as a human being.-Amartya Sen

Talking about the problems of the world without talking of some accesible solutions is the way to paralysis rather than progress.

There will be a poverty trap whenever the scope for growing income or wealth at a very fast rate is limited for those who have too little to invest, but expands dramatically for those who can invest a bit more.

One study finds that potatoes m
Laurent De Serres Berard
Oct 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Simple accessible writing that succeed in making many principles of development economics easy to understand. No this book book is not a radical way to rethink poverty. However, it is incredibly efficient in explaining basic principles to help understand why poverty doesn't seem to fit in basic or intuitive economics, and how to better help those cases. Moreover, it does so by looking at exploring factors of poverty in different cases and teaching us along the way how to observe those principles ...more
Greg Stoll
Jul 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Poor Economics is about the world's poor (living on the equivalent of 99 cents a day, not including housing) and how best to help them. There are basically two broad schools of thought on how to help: for example, in education one group (the "supply wallahs") says we just need to get kids into schools with good teachers, and the rest will take care of itself. (i.e. ensuring the supply of education will solve the problem) The other group (the "demand wallahs") says there's no point in doing this ...more
T. Sathish
Dec 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting insights
Feb 17, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: economics
I listened to the audio version of this book, downloaded from

The authors basic question is whether or not there is a "poverty trap" and their basic means of exploring this question are randomized experiments in which people are randomly assigned to get misquito nets, or food subsidies, or microcredit, or have savings accounts established for them, etc. The authors are quite proud of this methodological advance; I am appalled that techniques known to statisticians for decades, probab
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Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee is an Indian economist. He is currently the Ford Foundation International Professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Banerjee is a co-founder of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (along with economists Esther Duflo and Sendhil Mullainathan) and a Research Affiliate of Innovations for Poverty Action, a New Haven, Connecticut based research ...more

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“But then it is easy, too easy, to sermonize about the dangers of paternalism and the need to take responsibility for our own lives, from the comfort of our couch in our safe and sanitary home. Aren't we, those who live in the rich world, the constant beneficiaries of a paternalism now so thoroughly embedded into the system that we hardly notice it?” 19 likes
“poverty is not just a lack of money; it is not having the capability to realize one’s full potential as a human being.” 18 likes
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