"Inequality at birth is neither just nor unjust. What's just and unjust is the way institutions deal with it" - John Rawls
"I always had a certain dislike for general principles and abstract prescriptions. I think it's necessary to have an "empirical lantern" or a "visit with the patient" before being able to understand what is wrong with him. It is crucial to understand the peculiarity, the specificity, and also the unusual aspects of the case" - Albert O. Hirschman
Rohini Pande on solution oriented policy analysis, gender, and development research
World Bank blog has a short interview of
Prof. Rohini Pande of Harvard Kennedy School.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. She has great insights into
development research, especially on nature of development research and
intersection of politics and economy.
On policy analysis:
We often see
students, especially those with experience in government and
policymaking, arrive with a solution in hand— digital identification, or universal basic income,
or whatever — and our work is to get them to back up and start thinking hard in
terms of problem identification. If you can get them to
do that — to be
question-orientated rather than answer-orientated— then it’s an easy step to get them to think about analytical
frameworks and the evidence needed.
solutions dominate the conversation
before problems have even been identified. This is often because a particular solution is being pushed by
political bosses or superiors in the bureaucracy.
I think it’s a
matter of righting a wrong. Researchers are coming to see that this isn’t a
matter of feminism or activism, but of accuracy and rigor: research that
doesn’t view development through a gender lens makes errors. I’ve seen this
many times in my own work. Microfinance is one example: it’s easy to look at
microfinance through the lens of profits and poverty-reduction, and say
it doesn’t work. But
if you frame the question differently, if you say, Have these
programs successfully provided credit to poor women — some of the most isolated and disempowered people on
earth — and made a profit at the same time? Then you get a
very different outcome. It becomes a success story.
On nature of development research:
I would also love to see the
central engagement of development economists being with the research question
they pose and not the tools used to answer it. The last decade has seen what I
consider a phony war between supporters and opponents of RCTs. I think, as a
profession we agree that RCTs are a valuable method for identification in some
settings but the analytical toolkit available to development economists is, and
will remain, broader than just RCTs.
I liked this line
It’s easy to
create and introduce an indicator variable for gender in regressions, much
harder to create a sensible indicator for the power structures underlying
I haven’t seen such nuanced views from a development
economist in long time. There was Hirschman, then Dani Rodrik and then Rohini
I am now definitely adding her to the list of my favourite