Book Review: Abhijit V Banerjee and Esther Duflo ~ Good Economics for Hard Times – Better answers to our biggest problems (2019)

It’s easy to feel intellectually intimidated by a book by two Nobel Prize winners and perhaps that’s the right response sometimes. On this occasion it isn’t.* This is a readable and homely book written in an accessible way.

The ‘biggest problems’ discussed include immigration, unemployment and the destruction of the dignity of the poor. Notoriously the 2016 Brexit campaign preyed on immigration. The premise being that the UK was so wonderful that 70 million Turks were thirsting to come here immediately along with the populations of Africa and Asia. The authors debunk this by using as evidence from internal migration within the USA where people wont move even when the local economy is shot to pieces. Populations are ‘sticky’. Bangladeshi villagers literally face starvation and yet stay put.

The expectations of society are destructive. Poor people are labelled poor, unworthy and quasi-parasites. Benefits are delivered as charity in a Victorian way. All the evidence suggests that this is corrosive. Interestingly labelling impacts on the ambience that envelopes the poor: Teachers told that some children are smarter than others (even though they were chosen randomly) treat them differently, so that they these children do in fact do better. (p321) The poor feel worthless because they are labelled was worthless and treated with contempt. Once alienated they are unable to either contribute to society or to lift their horizons.

The implications of this book are immense and it deserves to be read widely. Don’t be put off by the stellar reputations of the authors.

* I made the mistake of trying Whitehead and Russell Principia Mathematica. A quote from Wikipedia explains my utter failure: several hundred pages of PM precede the proof of the validity of the proposition 1+1=2.

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