What We're Reading

In writing Poor Economics, we relied on decades of work by development economics researchers. Naturally, that research continued after the book was published. The moment the book was finished, we wished we had waited a little longer so we could have included results from new studies. This page is a way of highlighting and archiving recent studies of interest to our readers. Occasionally, we will also provide updates about what we are working on.


A new, original (and controversial) take on Gandhi.


The new World Development report focuses on gender equality and development. It highlights both progress and sticking points. It is an excellent survey on both the state of the literature and policy prescriptions to be debated.


A field experiment in Indonesia finds that when communities selects the poor for assistance they select more or less the same people that a top down method would have selected, but they are much happier about the outcome.


Researchers sent mail to themselves in Lima, Peru from two American cities. When the envelope contained just a small card it was lost 15 percent of the time. But when the envelope contained the same small card, with just a small amount of money, it was "lost" 21 percent of the time.


A recent study shows that over the last 20 years, the median difference in wages between traditionally disadvantaged untouchables and tribal populations and the general population in India has declined by 40 percent. It appears this is mainly because of a rapid convergence in education levels. During this time in the US, there has been essentially no convergence in median wages between black and whites.


For almost 15 years, journalist Adrian Nicole Leblanc followed a group of young people in the Bronx as they grew up. She gives a remarkable account of their lives, their strength and weaknesses, and the incredibly hard and rich lives they live.


M-PESA is a system that lets customer transfer money to each other using their cell phone. Its growth has been explosive throughout Kenya, and it is now cropping up in other country as well. In this paper, the first to systematically explore the impact of MPESA on risk sharing, Tavneet Suri and William Jack showed that households that did not have M-PESA suffer a decrease in consumption when hit by a negative shock, while the consumption in households that use the technology was unaffected. This is because the reduction in the cost of remitting money allowed them to get small transfers from a larger numbers of friends and relative.


A topical and disturbing reading in the current context of the Horn of Africa: In their new paper, “Aiding Conflict: The Unintended Consequences of U.S. Food Aid on Civil War,” Nathan Nunn and Nancy Qian argue that food aid may be unwittingly aiding conflict and civil war.


Aman Sethi, a Indian Journalist, spends 5 years on and off in Bara Tooti, a large slum in Delhi. He befriends Ashraf, a homeless day laborer, and several of his friends. Not only does he tell their story, he shares with us their theories about the world, their lives, and their poverty. A beautifully written, empathic and intelligent account of life on the outskirts.


In many countries, malaria has become resistant to the older anti-malarial medications. A new treatment, Artemisinin Combination Therapies (ACTs), offers an effective new solution, and considerable effort is now underway to make it available widely and cheaply. But, since few people are actually tested for whether they have malaria before being given treatment, there is a risk of over-use (and ultimate loss of effectiveness) of the new drug.

Researchers Jessica Cohen, Pascaline Dupas and Simone Schaner, in their new paper, Price Subsidies, Diagnostic Tests, and Targeting of Malaria Treatment,  found that, where ACTs were heavily subsidized, only 38 percent of adults seeking malaria treatment at the pharmacy actually had malaria. Given this, the researchers argue for a strategy of slightly reducing that subsidy, and using those savings to instead subsidize access to a rapid diagnosis test. This strategy could increase the fraction of malaria-positive people among those taking ACTs, without meaningfully reducing access among those who are indeed ill. 

Additionally, the paper underscores a serious issue: while patients are often willing to take the test, many still ignore the results. Improving compliance with test results is an extra challenge for the health and policy community.