Delighted that work focussed on poorest people has been awarded: Abhijit Banerjee

New York: Indian-American MIT professor Abhijit Banerjee, who jointly won the 2019 Nobel Economics Prize with his wife Esther Duflo and Harvard professor Michael Kremer, on Monday said he is delighted that work focussed on the world’s poorest people has been awarded the prestigious prize and it honours all the people working on the ground for poverty alleviation.

The prize reflects on the fact that somehow while we often pay lip service to the welfare of all, this is something that not always (is the) immediate focus of a prize like this, Banerjee said in an interview to

He said he is delighted that some attention was thrown this way.”

Not that I think all the other things that they get prizes for aren’t important. But it does make people who work in this area feel a little more enthused. Lots of people in this world, who do real things, not people like us, people who do real things, this is somewhat of a prize for all of them, he said.

Banerjee, his wife Duflo and Harvard professor Kremer jointly won the 2019 Nobel Economics Prize “for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty”.

Banerjee, 58, and French-American Duflo both work at the US-based Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) while Kremer is at Harvard University.

Banerjee said he has learnt an enormous amount from talking to people on the ground. The set of people I really owe enormous amount to is the people who are both the people with whom we work with, whose lives we study in many ways, but also the people who work with them.

Crediting NGOs like Pratham and Seva Mandir for the work they do at the grassroots level, he said he has learned a huge amount from these organisations. For example, my personal experience that these organisations that work on a very large scale with very poor people has certainly been very important for us.

He added that “one should not have too much faith in one’s own rationality and you should not have too much faith in the rationality of anybody else either.”

“We all learn together about the way the world is. And I think it’s an antidote to wishful thinking of all kinds.

Banerjee told MIT News it was wonderful to receive the award, adding you don’t get this lucky many times in your life.

He noted that experiment-based work in development economics was a little-explored area of research 20 years ago but has grown significantly since then.

The kind of work we’ve done over the years, when we started, was marginal in economics, he said. In that light, he added, the Nobel award is “great for the development field” within economics, reflecting the significance of work done by many of his colleagues.

Banerjee was educated at the University of Calcutta, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and Harvard University, where he received his Ph.D in 1988. He is currently the Ford Foundation International Professor of Economics at the MIT.

In 2003, Banerjee founded the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), along with Duflo and Sendhil Mullainathan, and he remains one of its directors. He also served on the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

J-PAL, a global network of antipoverty researchers that conducts field experiments, has now become a major center of research, backing work across the world.

Duflo, the 46-year-old former advisor to ex-US president Barack Obama, is the second woman and the youngest ever to win the economics prize.

“We are incredibly happy and humbled,” Duflo was quoted as saying by the MIT News. “We feel very fortunate to see this kind of work being recognised.”

We’re fortunate to see this kind of work being recognised, Duflo told MIT News, noting that their work was born at MIT and supported by MIT.

She called the work in this area a collective effort and said that we could not have created a movement without hundreds of researchers and staff members. The Nobel award, she said, also represented this collective enterprise, and was larger than our work.

Duflo added that she and Banerjee were absolutely delighted to share this award with Kremer, calling his work an inspiration for antipoverty researchers.

Kremer is a former MIT faculty member who served at the Institute from 1993 to 1999, and remains an affiliated professor with J-PAL; he is currently the Gates Professor of Developing Societies at Harvard University.

The three award-winners have known each other since the mid-1990s and have long viewed their research efforts as being intellectually aligned.

Nancy Rose, department head and the Charles P Kindleberger Professor of Applied Economics, said, Esther and Banerjee have been exceptional colleagues and contributors to the MIT economics department.”

Their passion for the power of economics to do good in the world inspires us all, and their generosity and compassion in working with students and colleagues has propelled countless careers forward. We couldn’t be more thrilled for this recognition of all they have done.”

Rose added that Abhijit, Esther, and Michael’s work shows economic research at its finest. They have not only transformed the way economists approach the study of poverty and development economics, but deployed their findings to improve the lives of hundreds of million people across the globe. Their founding of MIT’s J-PAL has created a vibrant network of scholars who are bringing evidence-based antipoverty policy into every corner of the world.