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Abhijit V Banerjee

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The Poor Economist

‘Randomista’ may not sound like the most flattering descriptor one can give an economist, but in the case of Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee, it happens to be factually correct. It’s also a simple term for a rather specialised branch of economics: the use of random, controlled trials to test economic theories, an approach you’d expect more from a man in a lab coat than an MIT professor.

But then Abhijit Banerjee has never followed the norm, even when the norm would have been to rebel: the son of Economics professor parents from Kolkata, it would have been understandable for him to want to do anything but teach economics; yet, here he is, the Ford Foundation International Professor of Economics at MIT.

Not for him, though, the study of theory alone; his career has been marked by rigourous, hands-on research that sets him apart. In a world where instant results and quick findings are lauded, he does things the old-fashioned—and unfailingly effective—way; conducting experiments, collecting data, puzzling over its many possible interpretations, and testing likely conclusions till there’s virtually no room for doubt.

It’s a trait he has in common with fellow MIT economist (and THINK Fest speaker) Esther Duflo, and it’s what they bring to their new book, Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty. Even more remarkable, though, is that he remains practical and grounded even while being a visionary, never letting the scale of global poverty overwhelm his optimism that the fight against poverty can, in fact, be won.

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