When the world is facing large systemic crises, why is the economics profession celebrating small technical fixes?

I unpack the critiques of the work of Banerjee, Duflo & Kremer and offer some of my own reflections.

Thanks @L__Macfarlane for publishing!
I identify three main forms of critiques: critiques of the focus (symptoms rather than causes, small rather than big), the method and the underlying theory. I also delve into how the gold standard status of this approach has implications for research and policy.
The Nobel committee praised the laureates for addressing “smaller, more manageable questions.” This shift in focus is a part of general trend in dev econ towards equating development w/ poverty rather than structural change. Lack of engagement w/ conditions that create poverty.
The theoretical critique is not of RCTs per se, but of how they are employed in dev econ today. There is no doubt that the laureates' approach is founded on neoclassical micro & methodological individualism. I draw on the work of @N_Kabeer to address why that is a problem.
En example is how Duflo and others fail to fully understand issues related to women's empowerment because of their exclusive focus on individual maximizing behavior. (Read more about this critique here.) feministeconomicsposts.iaffe.org/2013/12/19/est…
Then, on to the methodological critique, and here there is a ton of work to draw on, ranging from ethical questions, to questions of internal and external validity. Issues include:

1) effects on individuals and households are not separate from the societies in which they exist
2) randomistas give little acknowledgement to other ways of knowing about the world that might help us better understand individual motivations and socio-economic situations.
3) As it is difficult to achieve truly random sampling in human communities, it is not surprising that when RCTs are replicated, they may come to substantially different results than the original.
See e.g. a replication of Duflo and others by @BedecarratsF
4) There is also the deeper epistemological critique by Nancy Cartwright that challenges the underlying assumption that there is one specific true impact that can be uncovered through experiments.
5) Important for anyone concerned with rigor and impact: Recent research shows that alternative attempts to assess the success of specific programs have been far superior to RCTs. tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.10…
6) There are serious ethical problems at stake. Among these are issues such as instrumentalizing people, the role of consent, accountability & foreign intervention, and the colonial dimensions of US researchers intervening to estimate what is best for people in the Global South.
Why does this matter? There will always be research that is more or less relevant for development, so why does it matter what the randomistas do? As the Nobel Committee stated, their “experimental research methods now entirely dominate development economics”.
A serious epistemological problem arises when the definition of what rigour and evidence means gets narrowed down to one single approach that has so many limitations. This shift has taken place over the past couple of decades in dev econ & is now strengthened by the Nobel.
It also matters because the randomistas are committed to provoke results & are pushing "evidence based policy". Of course evidence is important, but the way they approach it is problematic for a number of reasons (see Dreze on this).
To end on a positive note, the Nobel does direct attention to the persistence of poverty in the world and the need to do something about it. So it is up to us to challenge the fact that the Prize also legitimizes a prescriptive view of how to find solutions to global problems.
Finally -- thanks to @Terry_Hathaway for the excellent title suggestion! And to @devikadutt @cacrisalves and @farwasial for discussions and comments on drafts & ideas ✊
And to @L__Macfarlane for the invitation and @openDemocracy for supporting critical journalism! 🔥
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