Poor Economics by Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo (Part One)

10245602Nonfiction — print. Public Affairs, 2011. 303 pgs. Purchased.

Subtitled “A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty”, my economics development class has been using Banerjee and Duflo’s book as a textbook for our discussion on the real nature of poverty. Part One covering the private lives (known in economics as the micro-scale) is as far as my class will go with the book. I hope to finish the book after my final examination in two weeks. For now, though, I thought I would pen some thoughts on the five chapters I have read.

The first five chapters cover what are considered the most important measurements indicative of poverty — hunger, poor health, lower education, and high fertility. Each chapter looks at the big-picture, or macro, story about the measurement in question and then attempts to dispute or prove common held beliefs on the micro level. For example, the poor are said to have poor health because they are unable to afford preventative measures such as mosquito nets to prevent malaria or an electrolyte treatment for diarrhea. However, Banerjee and Duflo prove that the poor actually bypass such “low-hanging fruit” for more expensive, curative treatments.

Or, in the case of hunger, it is commonly held that the poor cannot afford to purchase more food and improve their nutrition. Their low levels of nutrition mean they are too weak to perform well at their jobs and are therefore stuck in what Jeffrey Sachs calls a poverty trap. However, the poor actually spend a sizable chunk of their income on alcohol, tobacco, and festivals/funerals.

It’s an interesting read that certainly forces a person to challenge commonly held beliefs about the poor. Just don’t look to Banerjee and Duflo to offer solutions to these problems because, at least at the point where I am in the book, there are none to give. The data both proves and disproves the authors’ hypothesis.

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