Tackling development problems: small steps toward a better world

There are several videos which I strongly recommend for those without any knowledge about development economics:

1. Esther Duflo: Social experiments to fight poverty (youtube)

2. Global-X interview: Muhammad Yunus – Grameen Bank (youtube)

3. Professor Karthik Muralidharan’s work on Teacher’s Pay in India (youtube)

The first is a TED talk given by MIT Professor Esther Duflo, who specializes in experiments to tackle poverty. The second is about Grameen Bank, a bank in Bangladesh which helps the poor through microfinance (for those who are new to the concept, a brief introduction is here). The third is Professor Muralidharan at UCSD talking about his project on teacher’s pay and school performance in India.

I had the honor to take an introductory class in development economics by Professor Muralidharan at UCSD. I made up my mind to explore further about the field after the course. The course was fascinating, in that in opened a broad field of economics to me. More importantly, it is intriguing to associate the topics to what I’ve seen and experience myself in a developing country. As a Chinese student, I have witnessed the fast development in Chinese cities during the years as well as the poor living conditions of the population in remote places. Economic and social development across regions is highly unbalanced. The coastal cities enjoy more foreign investment, better education, and more opportunities to live a better life. Provinces in the inner land lag a lot.

In Professor Muralidharan’s class, he talked about experiment of development economics and their policy indications. It surprised me when he said that by asking teachers to take photos when they go to class, teacher attendance was greatly improved. His research investigates the impact of the raising teacher’s pay on teacher’s attendance and students’ performance. The impact was significant and it proved more effective than assigning inspectors to different regions (and letting them to accept the bribes by absent teachers).

Many development economic problems are big, but not difficult to solve. Tackling them, although it takes a long process, is just like what Esther Duflo ends with her speech: “I believe we can, and I hope we will.”


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