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Notes and Reflections on Books and Media

by Hannah Leitheiser

The Challenge of World Poverty MIT Course 14.73

Esther Duflo, and Abhijit Banerjee




"'...we should not forget that poor people in developing countries are far more exposed if their economies falter.' - Robert Zoelick, 2009

"So this is a quote from the president of the World Bank. He's trying to make the case that the crisis in 2008, 2009 was going to be a particular crisis for the world's poor. And that's not implausible. You might imagine that if you are that much closer to survival, you have fewer resources, then anything that goes wrong is likely to hurt you more. So that's not an implausible idea.

I spent a couple of days with a New York Times reporter, the New York Times bureau chief in India, in the pursuit of this story. So I was going for something else, and she came along with me. And she was looking for people who had-- this was a part of rural India, a very poor part of rural India.

And her whole idea was that she's going to go there and, like Zoellick, she was wondering how these people in the villages who go to the city to work as maybe laborers, how they would be affected by this global crisis. This is the New York Times. So she wanted to link up what's happening in poor parts in rural India with what's happening in New York. So that made perfect sense.

And the problem was that nobody seemed to know there was a crisis. So she would go and ask people, so have you heard about this? There's a crisis in the world. Is that affecting your job prospects?

And one striking fact was this was in a part of rural India that's pretty backward. The areas we were were mostly conservative, mostly families. A lot of the migrants had come home for a bustling religious festival.

So a lot of the migrants were there. We could talk to them. And to the man, literally to the man, they said, no. What crisis? There are jobs for anybody who wants a job.

So we went to the train station for migrants coming back from having lost their jobs in the cities. In fact, we found tons of migrants who were leaving for the city on the train. So basically the story never got written, and New York Times never had this story because there was never anything to be found. And it was kind of striking how disjointed these two world views were.

Now, that doesn't mean-- I think it was clear that if you looked at the data, there were people who were losing jobs. Some construction projects had been shut down. There were certainly some jobs being lost.

I think the real reason why this didn't show up in people's kind of intellectual map as a very big deal is not because some bad things were not happening. But it's more that they're used to having jobs being lost and having to find jobs and things like that as a normal part of their life. In other words, the amount of risk that they normally bear is so large relative to our perception of risk-- I'll show you some numbers in a bit-- our perception of risk that this was seen as, you know, normal turnover.

Certainly some jobs were being-- but you find another the job. - Esther Duflo, and Abhijit Banerjee, The Challenge of World Poverty MIT Course 14.73 (2011)