Work on poverty in Africa wins Nobel Economics prize

Monday October 14 2019

A computer screen displays the co-winners of the 2019 Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences (L-R) Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, Sweden, on October 14, 2019. Indian-born Abhijit Banerjee, his French-American wife Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer of the US won the Nobel Economics Prize for their targeted approaches to alleviating global poverty. PHOTO | JONATHAN NACKSTRAND |AFP


A trio of American economists on Monday won the Nobel Economics Prize for their work in the fight against poverty, including with new approaches in education and healthcare.

Indian-born Abhijit Banerjee of the US, his French-American wife Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer of the US were honoured for breaking down difficult issues into smaller subsets.

These can then be answered through field experiments among the people who are most affected.
"This year's laureates have introduced a new approach to obtaining reliable answers about the best ways to fight global poverty," the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said.
The jury said their studies had led to more than five million Indian children getting remedial tutoring in schools and heavily subsidised preventive healthcare in many countries.

Duflo is only the second woman to win the Nobel Economics Prize in its 50-year existence, following Elinor Ostrom in 2009.

Banerjee, born in 1961, and Duflo are both professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US, while Kremer, 54, is a professor at Harvard University.

Unlike the other Nobels awarded since 1901, the Economics Prize was not created by the prizes' founder, philanthropist and dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel, in his 1895 will.


It was devised in 1968 to mark the 300th anniversary of Sweden's central bank, and first awarded in 1969.

Each of the Nobels comes with a prize sum of nine million Swedish kronor ($914,000) to be shared if there is more than one winner in the discipline.

But unluckily for recent winners, the prize's value has lost around $185,000 in the past two years, due to the depreciation of the Swedish krona.

The trio will receive the prize from King Carl XVI Gustaf at a formal ceremony in Stockholm on December 10, the anniversary of the 1896 death of Alfred Nobel.

Last year, the prize went to William Nordhaus and Paul Romer of the US for constructing "green growth" models that show how innovation and climate policies can be integrated with economic growth.

Youngest winner

Esther Duflo, 46, is the youngest ever winner of the economics prize and only the second woman to gain the accolade.

She won the prestigious John Bates Clark medal in 2010 which is often a first step to the Nobel award.

The economist made her name conducting research on poor communities in India and Africa, seeking to weigh the impact of policies such as incentivising teachers to show up for work or measures to empower women.

Her tests, which have been likened to clinical trials for drugs, seek to identify and demonstrate which investments are worth making and have the biggest impact on the lives of the most deprived.
"Our vision of poverty is dominated by caricatures and cliches," she told AFP in an interview in September 2017 while discussing the aim of her fieldwork and research as a professor at MIT in Boston.
"We need to understand the obstacles faced by the poorest and try to think about how we can help them move on," she said.

As a result, she has brought fresh perspective to the field of development economics, treading a new path between proponents of huge transfers of aid to poor nations, and those who reject such help as a form of rich-world paternalism.

Poverty in retreat

Despite witnessing at first-hand acute malnutrition and misery caused by deprivation, Duflo remains optimistic, stressing that poverty is in retreat globally.

"The story of the fight against poverty is full of successes. Extreme poverty has fallen sharply, infant mortality has been divided in half, schooling for primary-age children has become almost universal," she told AFP in 2017.

Her work has been supported by billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates, and she was once an advisor to US president Barack Obama.

The lover of classical music was raised in Paris and is the daughter of a mathematician father and a paediatrician mother, whom she credits with giving her an urge to help people less fortunate than herself.

Duflo attended the prestigious Henri IV school in the French capital and went on to win a place at the equally elite Ecole Normale Superieure university, a training ground for French academics.

But she left her home country to study at MIT, obtaining a doctorate in 1999 and joining the faculty. She secured tenure when she was just 29, marking her out instantly as a rising star.

The Economics Prize wraps up a Nobel season that stands out for its crowning of two literature laureates.

Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk for 2018 - delayed by a year due to a sexual harassment scandal - and Austrian novelist Peter Handke for 2019, whose selection sparked controversy because of his pro-Serb support during the Balkan wars.
Prior to that, the laureates in the fields of medicine, physics and chemistry were announced.
On Friday, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won the Peace Prize for his efforts to resolve the long-running conflict with neighbouring foe Eritrea.