Academic Aid: Rise of the Randomistas!

20 May

*(Full Disclosure: I REALLY want a job from the people I’m posting about…)

Two new books have been published by the folks at Innovations for Poverty Action. More Than Good Intentions by Dean Karlan and Jacob Appel, and Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo. I’m reading Poor Economics now and it gives some great insights into the randomized control trial methodology used by IPA to better understand the economic decision made by the poor.

Now Kristof joins the “Randomista” bandwagon:

Now we reach a central question for our age: How can we most effectively break cycles of poverty? For decades, we had answers that were mostly anecdotal or hot air. But, increasingly, we are now seeing economists provide answers that are rigorously field-tested, akin to the way drugs are tested in randomized controlled trials, yielding results that are particularly credible and persuasive.

Look, school buildings are important, too. My wife and I built a school in Cambodia, and whether it’s our school or one of Greg Mortenson’s, they can make a big difference. My point is that for years people have been arguing until they were blue in the face about how to help people — and, finally, we’re getting some reliable data suggesting how to do that.

And for some balance, a critique of the RCT’s by David Roodman at the Center for Global Development:

So I like RCTs, and I think it is good that randomized trials of microfinance are underway.

Still, the rapid rise of the “randomistas” feels like a fad. Will a healthy movement overshoot? Already, grand men of economics such as Nobelist James Heckman and Angus Deaton are asking tough questions. Such as: Are RCT researchers doing science if they treat people and households as black boxes—things to be experimented on and observed—without modeling or studying what goes on inside the black boxes? If you learn that pushing this button turns on that light, what have you really learned about electricity? The concern is practical because it gets to whether researchers gain insight into human behavior that can lead to improvements in programs meant to help people.

Full Post Here

And a good, semi-related post by Good-Well.Org giving suggestions for aid, Here

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