Millennium Post

Recognising problems for solutions

Kolkata, in particular, swelled with pride on October 14 when it gave the world another Nobel laureate for works pertaining to global poverty alleviation. Indian-American Abhijit Banerjee is one of the three to jointly win the 2019 Nobel Economics Prize with his wife Esther Duflo and Harvard's Michael Kremer. Banerjee graciously dedicated the honour to the entire movement for global poverty alleviation. The trio has worked together in the field to revolutionise developmental economics by pioneering experiments that generate practical insights into how the poor respond to educational, health care, and other programmes. What underlines this is that poverty is a vicious cycle that can suck in individuals and groups of people owing to a set of factors, the most primary of which are education, health care, and some other crucial social sector undertakings. After the announcement of the award, speaking at Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he is a Professor along with his wife Esther Duflo, Banerjee said that "The prize is going to be wonderful for the movement… because I think it's going to make it a little easier to penetrate the many doors that were half-open to us or not quite open to us…" He was born in Kolkata and studied economics at Presidency College of University of Calcutta before going to JNU and later to Harvard where he received his PhD in 1988. Banerjee is currently the Ford Foundation International Professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. At the news briefing, he broached a very pertinent mention of subject of the state of the Indian economy, saying it was "doing very badly" even as the government was increasingly recognising that there was a problem. Citing that declining household consumption data is a warning that the Indian economy is going "into a tailspin''. He cited a dip in data of average consumption in urban and rural India between 2014-15 and 2017-18 to explain that "that's the first time such has a thing has happened in many, many, many, many years", clarifying and bringing to highlight yet another time that this is a glaring warning sign. Weighing in on the ongoing controversy — the "enormous fight", as he called it — in India over what data and numbers to rely on as indicators of the health of the economy, he added rather bluntly that the Indian government was aware of the problem with the economy that is "slowing very, very fast", and that this is the time when "you don't worry so much about monetary stability and you worry a little bit more about the demand… right now, demand is a huge problem in the economy'. That said, as much as it is an occasion to celebrate an Indian making a mark globally for some very significant and long-term-impact developmental work, this is also a time to ponder the fact that relevant bodies that are concerned with the economy and the assessment of its status and performance disclose data the authenticity of which are challenged. Political pressures are allegedly the cause of manipulation of several critical facts so deflection from the main concern results from talks and debates all around the matter but not exactly on point. But, when an academic of no political affiliation and only knowledge and understanding of the working of an economy makes a point that resonates with most of those who see facts for exactly what they are, the least that could be done is to take that as a sign—yet another time—to work towards rectifying the situation.

Staying closer to roots, for all their landmark achievements and recognitions earned in a foreign land, Banerjee answered one question in Bengali, in response to a request from the questioner, and Duflo, who is of French origin, switched to her mother-tongue for a few questions. Duflo is only the second woman to receive the Nobel prize for economics and the youngest across all the categories and genders. Banerjee and Duflo founded the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) at MIT with Sendhil Mullainathan in 2003 and Banerjee remains one of the lab's directors. Banerjee also served on the UN Secretary-General's High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. The economist trio awarded for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty conducted a research that has considerably improved the ability to fight global poverty. "In just two decades, their new experiment-based approach has transformed development economics, which is now a flourishing field of research," said the Nobel committee in a statement. In order to resolve any persisting problem, especially one of the enormity of India's economic slowdown, identification of the trouble is the mandatory first step towards addressing it. Only when then can solutions be implemented to any real effect. Debating over genuineness of data and in the process, turning a blind eye to the impact the slowdown is causing is only to compound matters further.

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