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An interview with Esther Duflo, Nobel Laureate in Economics | Save our rare victories

In less than 20 years, the planet’s extreme poverty rate has been halved. However, this feat could easily slip through our fingers as climate change increases.


It’s not me saying it or an environmentalist, it’s rather a very serious MIT economist, Esther Duflo.

The person who became the youngest laureate of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Economics was in Montreal on Friday at the invitation of the Center for International Studies and Research (CÉRIUM), the Observatory of Inequality and the Metropolis Festival.

“By the year 2100, climate change will erase the progress we have made in fighting poverty and improving the quality of life,” she told the audience, which drank at her words.

Extreme poverty is his domain. With her husband, also her closest collaborator and Nobel laureate, Abhijit Banerjee, she has spent the past decades studying it and, above all, testing various measures to rein it in. Today, my Poverty Lab collaborates with hundreds of researchers in 95 countries.

Moreover, it was this very practical, “very rooted in reality” way of doing economics that convinced the Frenchwoman who grew up in Paris to get her PhD at MIT in Boston. And follow his path there.

Through tests, data collection and analysis, MI Duflo and his collaborators find the best solutions that governments can rely on. The subjects of the study are numerous: distribution of bed nets to combat malaria, approaches to improving the mental health of the elderly, mathematics education, immunization adherence, the impact of the quota system on women in politics, and the real impact of microcredit. Just a few.

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The repercussions of this research have had an impact on 600 million people, Ms. estimates.I Duflo. We are far from theory.

Recently, the expert turned her attention to the intersection between poverty, inequality, and climate change.

Based on a study by Michael Greenstone of the University of Chicago, Esther Duflo asserts that while climate change will reduce mortality to some extent in OECD countries, quality of life will deteriorate and mortality will occur. Skyrocketing in emerging countries. “But the tools to control this global warming are not in the hands of those who will suffer the most,” she notes, noting that the richest countries are responsible for this planetary decline.

To meet this challenge, the economist does not see a thousand solutions. She believes that progressive taxation should be imposed on the rich and large companies based on their assets and environmental footprint.

A percentage of the money thus raised should be sent to the poorest countries, in particular through the United Nations Green Fund. “It’s good to have a fund,” quips the economist who met on the sidelines of the conference, “but now he’s taking money in it.”

None of this will happen with the snap of your fingers. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that international solidarity is, at best, shaky. “What we have seen in COVID is that under the influence of the crisis, we cannot think of others,” notes the economist.

Esther Duflo fears that the same “every man for himself” that markedly slowed vaccine distribution during the pandemic will be repeated as climate-related disasters intensify. “Even if our crises in the West were less serious, we risk putting all our resources there, like Amsterdam, which could spend huge sums building ever higher dams,” she notes, but forgets that during this time, Bangladesh and the Maldives were under water. . »

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While we forget that the misfortune of some is also a misfortune for us.

Who is Esther Duflo?

  • Born in France in 1972, Esther Duflo is Professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
  • In 2009, she founded the Anti-Poverty Lab (J-PAL) at MIT.
  • In 2019, she won along with Abhijeet F. Banerjee (her husband) and Michael Kremer, the Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in memory of Alfred Nobel, known as the Nobel Prize in Economics.
  • She has several books Rethink poverty (2012) and A useful economy for difficult times (2020).