In an election year when we are about to be bombarded with a barrage of ideologies and gut-level opinions it may be useful to emphasise the work of Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo. The two are revolutionising aid to the third world by applying scientific principles to its delivery. In this talk, Duflo begins by making the startling point that – in fifty years of aid delivery to Africa – we don’t know what has worked, or if anything has helped (or even hindered) the people living there.
Before we are tempted to sign up to the ‘aid does more harm than good’ school, Duflo delivers a third option – randomised aid trials. Revolutionizing medicine, the principle of blind trials enable us to look beyond ideology and see exactly what does and doesn’t work – and the results are startling.
In their new book, Poor Economics, which has been described as a Freakonomics for the Third World, the two authors collect the many results of randomised social trials around the world, and gives solid answers such as ‘How expensive should a mosquito net be?’ to best fight malaria, and ‘for $1 of aid money, what would be the top performing intervention we can make to increase education rates in Africa?’
If only we had a political party – and an electorate – that took an evidence over ideology basis to decisions at home.