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

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Overview

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 pioneered the use of randomized control trials in development economics. Work based on these principles, supervised by the Poverty Action Lab, is being carried out in dozens of countries. Drawing on this and their 15 years of research from Chile to India, Kenya to Indonesia, they have identified wholly new aspects of the behavior of poor people, their needs, and the way that aid or financial investment can affect their lives. Their work defies certain presumptions: that microfinance is a cure-all, that schooling equals learning, that poverty at the level of 99 cents a day is just a more extreme version of the experience any of us have when our income falls uncomfortably low.

This important book illuminates how the poor live, and offers all of us an opportunity to think of a world beyond poverty.

Learn more at www.pooreconomics.com

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Banerjee (Making Aid Work) and Duflo (a contributor to Reinventing Foreign Aid), professors at MIT and founders of the university's Poverty Action Lab, offer answers to questions about aid: what it accomplishes, where it fails, which anti-poverty programs work and which do not, and why nine million children under the age of five die every year. Their results are often surprising, even counter-intuitive. For instance, many poorer families will concentrate their education dollars on the child they think most likely to succeed, sending that child (usually a boy) to school longer rather than spreading their education spending between all children, which might yield more in the long run. Banerjee and Duflo found evidence that relatively inexpensive improvements, such as water purification, may ultimately benefit a community more than, say, providing grain products. They also discovered that Kenyan abstinence programs encouraging school girls to marry older men resulted in an increase in HIV-AIDS, as older men are more likely to be HIV-positive. Their empirical approach differs from policy discussions that base support or criticism of aid programs on a broad overview; instead they illuminate many practicable and cost-effective ways to keep children and parents living healthier and more productive lives. An important perspective on fighting poverty. (Apr.)
Kirkus Reviews

Highly decorated economists Banerjee and Duflo (Economics/Massachusetts Institute of Technology) relay 15 years of research into a smart, engaging investigation of global poverty—and why we're failing to eliminate it.

Aiming to change the stigma that revolves around poverty, the authors explore not just how many find themselves in economic quicksand, but why. They suggest that policymakers, economists and philanthropists alike fail to understand the unique problems that lead to poverty; as such, attempts to eradicate it are often misguided. The poor need more than food, the authors write; they need programs that empower them with a real, fighting chance.Through a blend of on-the-ground observations, social experiments and psychological analysis, Banerjee and Duflo showcase an expansive understanding of poverty's traps and its potential solutions. They extol the virtues of such practices as microsaving and microfinance, which cut out debilitating interest rates and predatory moneylenders. But even these solutions aren't without their issues, including lack of trust in the lender and an unwillingness to take risk.The authors advocate for increased access to family planning, as family size is often a leading cause for why many are saddled with financial burden. They also investigate why many forego free or low-cost medical care or education.

A refreshingly clear, well-structured argument against the standard approach to poverty, this book, while intended for academics and those working on the ground, should provide an essential wake-up call for any reader.

From the Publisher

Amartya Sen
“A marvellously insightful book by two outstanding researchers on the real nature of poverty.”

Steven D. Levitt
“This book is a must-read for anyone who cares about world poverty.  It has been years since I read a book that taught me so much. ‘Poor Economics’ represents the best that economics has to offer.”
 
Robert Solow
“Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo are allergic to grand generalizations about the secret of economic development. Instead they appeal to many local observations and experiments to explore how poor people in poor countries actually cope with their poverty: what they know, what they seem (or don't seem) to want, what they expect of themselves and others, and how they make the choices that they can make. Apparently there are plenty of small but meaningful victories to be won, some through private and some through public action, that together could add up to a large gains for the world's poor, and might even start a ball rolling. I was fascinated and convinced.”
 
The Guardian, April 11, 2011
“[Banerjee and Duflo] offer a refreshingly original take on development, and they are very aware of how they are bringing an entirely new perspective into a subject dominated by big polemics from the likes of Jeffrey Sachs and William Easterly… they are clearly very clever economists and are doing a grand job to enrich their discipline's grasp of complex issues of poverty – so often misunderstood by people who have never been poor.”
 
The Economist, April 22, 2011
“In an engrossing new book they draw on some intrepid research and a store of personal anecdotes to illuminate the lives of the 865m people who, at the last count, live on less than $0.99 a day.”

The Economist’s Free Exchange Blog, April 21, 2011
“Let me recommend it… Poor Economics is more than just a compendium of the randomistas' greatest hits. For one thing, it contains some well-observed reporting.”
 
The Economist’s Free Exchange, April 21, 2011
“To cut to the chase: this is the best book about the lives of the poor that I have read for a very, very long time. The research is wide-ranging. Much of it is new. Above all, Banerjee and Duflo take the poorest billion people as they find them. There is no wishful thinking. The attitude is straightforward and honest, occasionally painfully so. And some of the conclusions are surprising, even disconcerting.”
 
The New York Times, May 19, 2011
“Randomized trials are the hottest thing in the fight against poverty, and two excellent new books have just come out by leaders in the field. One is “Poor Economics,” by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo… These terrific books move the debate to the crucial question: What kind of aid works best?”

Forbes.com, April 25, 2011
“a compelling and important read… an honest and readable account about the poor that stands a chance of actually yielding results.”
 
Philanthropy Action, April 25, 2011
“Banerjee and Duflo write exceptionally well, and given that there are two of them, the voice is surprisingly singular. But the real surprise in this book is its humility. Both the authors and the material they pull from are truly formidable, yet Banerjee and Duflo are not really out to make a hard pitch, least of all to die-hard Big Idealists who disagree with them. As such, there is nothing directly confrontational about Poor Economics. They are peeling the onion, not hacking it to pieces.”
 
The Guardian, May 18, 2011
“Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo's book, Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty, is making waves in development circles. Beyond the strong focus on randomised control trials, the book distinguishes itself by wading into issues on which the development community has often ignored or made uninformed guesses. These include the rationale behind the decisions made by the poor, whether they make the "best" decisions available, and how policymakers should respond.”
 
Matthew Yglesias, May 7, 2011
“Esther Duflo won the John Bates Clark medal last year for her work on development economics, so I was excited to read her new book with Abhijit Banerjee Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty. It’s a good book. It doesn’t really contain a radical rethinking of the way to fight global poverty, but it does try to cut past lame debates over whether or not foreign aid “works” to instead attempt to find ways to actually assess which programs are working, which aren’t, and how to improve those that don’t.”
 
The Wall Street Journal, April 30, 2011
“Marvelous, rewarding…’More Than Good Intentions’ and ‘Poor Economics’ are marked by their deep appreciation of the precariousness that colors the lives of poor people as they tiptoe along the margin of survival. But I would give an edge to Mr. Banerjee and Ms. Duflo in this area—the sheer detail and warm sympathy on display reflects a true appreciation of the challenges their subjects face… They have fought to establish a beachhead of honesty and rigor about evidence, evaluation and complexity in an aid world that would prefer to stick to glossy brochures and celebrity photo-ops. For this they deserve to be congratulated—and to be read.”

Financial Times, April 30, 2011
“The ingenuity of these experiments aside, it is the rich and humane portrayal of the lives of the very poor that most impresses. Both books show how those in poverty make sophisticated calculations in the grimmest of circumstances… Books such as these offer a better path forward. They are surely an experiment worth pursuing.”
 
Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 2, 2011
“Here's something Jesus might recommend: Reading the clear, calm and revelatory book "Poor Economics," from Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo. It is gloriously instructive, and bracing testimony in itself to the gold standard of the Enlightenment: the scientific method. The authors, both economists at MIT, spent 15 years in the field, running randomized controlled trials to test various approaches to combating poverty. They bring both rigor and humility to a predicament typically riven by ideology and blowhards.”

Financial World (UK),June 2011
“A remarkable work: incisive, scientific, compelling and very accessible, a must-read for advocates and opponents of international aid alike, for interested laymen and dedicated academics… Amartya Sen, fellow Nobel Prize winner Robert Solow and superstar economics author Steven Levitt wholeheartedly endorse this book. I urge you to read it. It will help shape the debate in development economics.”

Fast Company, June 15, 2011
“Fascinating and captivating. Their work reads like a version of Freakonomics for the poor. There are insights into fighting global poverty from the remarkable and vital perspective of those whom we profess to serve…They remind us, I think, of our shared humanity and how at some fundamental levels we really do think alike.”
 
IndianExpress.com, June 18, 2011
“This is a welcome shift in methodology as it implicitly concedes the need to combine social science with hard economics.”
 
Outlook India, June 25, 2011
“It vividly, sensitively and rigorously brings alive the dilemmas of the poor as economic agents in a variety of contexts, whether as consumers or risk-takers. There are splendid chapters on a variety of topics that affect the poor: food, health, education, savings, micro-credit, insurance, risk and even some cursory observations on political behaviour.”
 
Reilly Media, “Radar” blog, June 27, 2011
 “This is possibly the best thing I will read all year, an insightful (and research-backed) book digging into the economics of poverty... Love that the website is so very complementary to the book, and 100% aligned with the ambition to convince and spread the word.”

Publishers Weekly (online), May 2011
“Their empirical approach differs from policy discussions that base support or criticism of aid programs on a broad overview; instead they illuminate many practicable and cost-effective ways to keep children and parents living healthier and more productive lives. An important perspective on fighting poverty.”

The Guardian, June 6, 2011
“Duflo and Banerjee tell these stories (of their randomised control trials) in a lovely new book called Poor Economics. As they admit, randomistas cannot answer some big questions – how to tackle food prices, for instance. But through lots of microstudies, they make a subtle case for one big argument: aid really can help poor people, provided the money follows the evidence.”
 
VancouverSun, June 11, 2011
“This new book by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo eschews the ideology of both the right and the left, and focuses on what measurable evidence has to say about the often-conflicting myths that dominate discussion of international development.  The book is unusual, perhaps unique, in that the authors took a lot of time to talk to poor people about what they think and what they want.”
 
Seth Godin (blog),June 15, 2011

“Fact-based, actionable and totally unforgettable insights on the fight to help the poor help themselves.”
 
Financial Express, July, 2011
“[Banerjee and Duflo] draw upon the latest literature in the domain, write simply and succinctly on complex issues, display a level of honesty and humility rare among economists, and take the help of many highly illustrative examples to help us understand poverty from many different angles. The overall message is unambiguous. This is a complex problem, the causes and symptoms of which vary highly between individual cases. The solutions? Well, they are rightly silent on that — at best there is a murmur or two. Poverty is not a single problem so the solutions are too case-specific for a single solution… This should be standard reading and essential material in all aid organisations and more so in the National Advisory Council, Planning Commission, Prime Minister’s Office, and the various ministries — all those who don’t spend time understanding poverty in close vicinity.”
 
Development Policy (blog)
“The persuasiveness of ’Poor Economics’ lies in its authors’ intellectual approach…Moreover, it is well organised throughout and nicely written… ‘Poor Economics’ is well worth reading in full.”

Business World (India) 7/30
“Banerjee and Duflo assemble a fascinating assortment of interventions from across the globe in their book and they use the sharply differing perspectives of Sachs, who leads the “supply wallahs”  (this school believes in providing more schools, teachers, etc., to beat the education problem) and of Easterly who is a “demand wallah” (no point in providing education needlessly) as a backdrop to make their own points on how to avoid the poverty trap.  They offer five key lessons. First: the poor lack critical pieces of information and thus do not make right decisions; second:  the poor bear responsibility for too many aspects of their lives; third: markets are missing for the poor; four: governments start policies without understanding the reality within which these are supposed to succeed; and five: negative expectations of what people can do can be self-fulfilling prophecies. Modest suggestions? Yes, but this is part of the charm of the book. It is engaging and informative — which is more than can be said for many books of this genre.”

Business Day (South Africa)
“An inspiring book full of insights and empathy that should be mandatory reading for policy makers and aid workers alike. It strips away preconceptions and offers a wealth of new perspectives. With passion, enthusiasm and a true spirit of scholarship they have tried to pin down the often very simple ways in which the lives of the poor can be improved through, for example, better access to healthcare, education, food and finance — all vital to economic growth.”

Book Dwarf, February 14, 2011
“They have a compelling argument that antipoverty programs can be effective if properly designed, and illustrate ways to test them to make sure they actually work. The writing style is accessible and engaging, but it’s not dumbed down or over-simplified. The complexity of the subject means that this book is taking me longer to read than other books, but I’ve found the effort genuinely rewarding.”

Kirkus Review, April 15, 2011

“Highly decorated economists Banerjee and Duflo (Economics/Massachusetts Institute of Technology) relay 15 years of research into a smart, engaging investigation of global poverty—and why we're failing to eliminate it…A refreshingly clear, well-structured argument against the standard approach to poverty, this book, while intended for academics and those working on the ground, should provide an essential wake-up call for any reader.”

Midwest Book Review
“[Poor Economics] provides an inspirational audio recommended for any economics or nonfiction audio library.”
Midwest Book Review
Library Bookwatch
“Narrator Brian Holsopple’s nicely paced, steady reading conveys world poverty in a unique manner and is highly recommended for all university libraries.”
Library Journal [starred review]
Forbes.com
“Compelling and important. . . . An honest . . . account about the poor that stands a chance of actually yielding results.”
Forbes.com
The New York Times
“Excellent. . . . Move[s] the debate to the crucial question: What kind of aid works best?”
The New York Times
Wall Street Journal
“Marvelous, rewarding. . . . The sheer detail and warm sympathy on display reflects a true appreciation of the challenges their subjects face. . . . They have fought to establish a beachhead of honesty and rigor about evidence, evaluation and complexity in an aid world that would prefer to stick to glossy brochures and celebrity photo-ops.”
The Wall Street Journal
Financial Times
“It is the rich and humane portrayal of the lives of the very poor that most impresses.”
Financial Times
Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Gloriously instructive.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer
Financial World (UK)
“Incisive, scientific, compelling and very accessible.”
Financial World (UK)
Fast Company
“Reads like a version of Freakonomics for the poor.”
Fast Company
The Guardian
“A refreshingly original take on development.”
The Guardian
The Economist
“In an engrossing new book they draw on some intrepid research and a store of personal anecdotes to illuminate the lives of the 865m people who, at the last count, live on less than $0.99 a day.”
The Economist
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781586487980
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 4/26/2011
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 9.32 (w) x 6.44 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee was educated in Kolkata, Delhi and Cambridge, MA. He is currently the Ford Foundation International Professor of Economics at MIT. He is the recipient of many honors and awards, including most recently the inaugural Infosys Prize in 2009, and has been an honorary advisor to many organizations including the World Bank and the Government of India.

Esther Duflo is the Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics at MIT. She studied at the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris, and at MIT. She is a recipient of several important awards, including a MacArthur "genius" award (2009) and the John Bates Clark medal awarded annually to the best American economist under forty (2010). In 2003, Banerjee and Duflo co-founded the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), which they continue to direct.

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Table of Contents

Foreword vii

1 Think Again, Again 1

Part I Private Lives

2 A Billion Hungry People? 19

3 Low-Hanging Fruit for Better (Global) Health? 41

4 Top of the Class 71

5 PakSudarno's Big Family 103

Part II Institutions

6 Barefoot Hedge-Fund Managers 133

7 The Men from Kabul and the Eunuchs of India: The (Not So) Simple Economics of Lending to the Poor 157

8 Saving Brick by Brick 183

9 Reluctant Entrepreneurs 205

10 Policies, Politics 235

In Place of a Sweeping Conclusion 267

Acknowledgments 275

Notes 277

Index 295

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2012

    Worth every penny and good to own as a reference

    There isn't a single line of filler in this book. Intuitively -organized and well-written, all the information and alalysis in here is extremely interesting and clear even to those not familiar with economics or international development. The vast majority of studies cited in this book are not only cited but linked, making this a must for those who want to specifics, methodologies and figures beyond the more-than-adequate amount provided here.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 14, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    After decades of effort, billions of dollars, thousands of aid w

    After decades of effort, billions of dollars, thousands of aid workers and hundreds of antipoverty programs, 865 million people still barely survive on the equivalent of less than a dollar a day. But that can change, one small clinic, one incentive and one schoolroom at a time according to this eye-opening work – The Financial Times/Goldman Sachs’ business book of the year for 2011. Authors and MIT economic researchers Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo report field-tested experiments showing that lifting the world’s poor into a more comfortable, productive life is possible, mostly with relatively simple changes, not masses of money. They call for understanding the human behaviors and motivations that drive all people, rich and poor alike, and apply that understanding to solving the seemingly overwhelming, intractable problem of global poverty. getAbstract strongly recommends this highly accessible yet scientific account of how to make life better for millions of people, while enabling the poor to contribute to the world’s economic and social progress.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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    Posted June 5, 2012

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    Posted October 26, 2012

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