Wednesday, December 14, 2016

"Poor Economics" Book Review

By Sara:

Anthony and I recently read a really interesting book about poverty and poverty alleviation called "Poor Economics" by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo.  If you are interested in this topic (which you very well may be since you're reading our blog), we definitely want to recommend it to you.

Even though it is written by economists and sounds like it could be kind of boring, it is actually quite engaging and an easy read.  And not only is it a page-turner, it is also quite informative.  This book is based on a lot of in-depth research about specific people and projects in poor countries.  The authors look at surprising results from poverty alleviation efforts and try to investigate the reasons why some of these efforts work really well and others do not.  They ask questions like: why do really great projects sometimes totally fail?  or: why do poor people sometimes totally reject small, simple changes that would improve their lives?

I liked how they talked about positive and accessible solutions to various problems in the world because when we only focus on the problems, it can be really depressing and keeps us from having hope.  This book is hopeful and gives some concrete examples of how poverty alleviation has been/can be done well.

There were all kinds of fascinating stories and data about health, agriculture, microfinance, and more.  One random thing that I found especially interesting was when they talked about how a lot people in poor countries tend to have the sense that the most effective way to get medicine into their body is through the blood.  As a result, they prefer doctors/clinics that are willing to treat them through giving injections.  I had noticed in Uganda that people were getting injections or were "on drip" very frequently for all sorts of different maladies (whereas in the US, you'd be prescribed pills).  But I never understood why.  It makes much more sense knowing that lots of people perceive the blood as the best way to get treatment into your body quickly.

I also appreciated the emphasis on experimentation and seriously investigating the effects of your programs.  Sometimes organizations just assume that what they are doing is working or improving peoples' lives without actually looking closely at the results.  Like Anthony and I have mentioned before, this is the importance of "overhead costs" in development organizations.  It is important that NGOs can look into the work they are doing, keep accountable with the work on the ground, and check to see whether what they are doing is effective.

So, if you have the chance, we hope you'll go out and read this book!  If you do, we would love to hear your thoughts about it.

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