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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

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  939 ratings  ·  74 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 Karlan an
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published April 14th 2011 by Dutton (first published April 1st 2011)
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Apr 19, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Daniel Tello
Mar 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a great book for people just starting out thinking about how to make their donations matter. From a social science perspective, a lot of the experiments are quite clever – I also learned a lot about the social context in which many of these problems are able to exist.
May 06, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Jun 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
I found this to be a terrific read on what I believe is the biggest problem here and abroad (hint: NOT drugs) when I read this more than 5 years ago.
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 rated it liked it
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
Laurie Hughes
Dec 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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 marked it as to-read
I won this book from First Reads giveaway. Should be an interesting read. Thank you.
Michel Russo
Jul 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
As someone just entering the field of international development, I found this book extremely helpful in answering my biggest question; does any of this actually work?

My own (simplified) understanding of development is that, for years, money has been poured into different governments, projects, and organizations internationally...some of which has made an impact but too much of it hasn’t.

What I love about this book is how Karlan and Appel seek ways to discover what makes development programs su
Nov 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
As someone working in development, I wish more of the general public would read books like this, rather than either blindly throwing cash at dodgy projects or bitching about how all NGOs are just imperialism through voluntourism.

This is a coherent and accessible walk-through of a very important issue: what development interventions actually help?

Some of the background-setting information sometimes seems a little redundant, or the treatment of some studies possibly a little shallow, but after all
Jun 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
The main premise of this book is that poverty reduction programs need to be studied to find out what works. It seems like a self evident premise but all too often poverty reduction programs have not worked but no one has done the studies to find out what works better. Scientists including economists know that the there should be a control group but it has only been recently that I have seen this basic concept used to show the value of a given program. All to often all we see are smiling faces an ...more
Dec 05, 2020 marked it as to-read
Shelves: econ-business
Dec 2020:

Found this book in reference to this old article:

However, the topics is of great interest to me as investment in infrastructure as a driver of growth and as a necessary precursor to poverty reduction is a generally accepted "fact" in a lot of policy and economics circles but - as always - there is a lot more nuance needed here. So I'm always looking to educate myself on the topic.
Sam Erlinger
Jul 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Fairly interesting overview of how we should think about global aid and evaluate anti-poverty programs. Easy to read writing with many specific and thought-provoking examples, but perhaps at the cost of over-simplifying issues, mostly by suggesting that everything can have an answer if you just designed an RCT.
Sep 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Offers some good and important information if you're considering contributing to the work of charities and aid organisations (however big or small) around the globe. ...more
Adelaida Diaz-Roa
Nov 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Loved this book. It is a great glimpse at things that work to make an impact but more importantly examples of how to rigorously test your ideas to make sure you make the most impact per dollar.
Jan 10, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Its emphasis on evidence is good. However, when coming to the experimets and incentives applied in Africa, I have my doubts as to its meaningfulness.
Jun 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Extremely well written and well researched. Makes the topic approachable to all. Highly recommend thi to anyone with a global outlook.
Curtis Tripp
This is a quality book on its own, but there is a lot of overlap with Poor Economics.
May 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Practical, insightful, charming read.
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
Apr 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
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 discover
Bea Bezmalinovic
Oct 27, 2014 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
Lauren Coonen
Nov 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
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 rated it really liked it
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 22, 2015 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
Jun 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
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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

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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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