Nobel Prize in economics goes to 3 for their work toward alleviating poverty

The 2019 Nobel Memorial Prize in economics winners are projected on a screen at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm on Monday. They are, from left on screen, Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer.
(AFP via Getty Images)

The 2019 Nobel Prize in economics was awarded Monday to Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer for pioneering new ways to alleviate global poverty.

Banerjee and Duflo, who are married, are at MIT; Kremer is at Harvard University. The three have often worked together.

Duflo, who phoned into the news conference where the prize was announced, said receiving it was “incredibly humbling.” The 46-year-old, born in Paris, is the youngest person ever and only the second woman to receive the economics prize. The first was Elinor Ostrom in 2009.


She noted that the profession is not always a welcoming one for women.

“Showing that it is possible for a woman to succeed and be recognized for success I hope is going to inspire many, many other women to continue working and many other men to give them the respect that they deserve like every single human being,” she said.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said the three economists created new ways to fight poverty by focusing on smaller, more manageable issues such as education and child health.

They said Kremer showed the power of that approach in the mid-1990s in fieldwork in Kenya.

In India, Banerjee and Duflo’s research center, the Poverty Action Lab, devised a system for reorganizing public school systems by learning level rather than age or grade. The academy says that, as a direct result, 5 million children benefited from remedial tutoring in schools.

“This is huge for us,” said Shobhini Mukerji, the executive director of the South Asia branch of the Poverty Action Lab, in New Delhi. “India is where the seeds were sown for their research.”

Banerjee’s mother, Nirmala Banerjee, also an economist, told news channel NDTV in India that the prize was unexpected.


“He has been trying to get economics away from the theoretical part, but using theory to understand the world as it is,” she said from her home in Kolkata. “The way it works, the way poverty is, the way people handle poverty.”

Abhijit Banerjee this year advised India’s opposition party, the Congress, ahead of national elections in May about offering financial aid to the poor. He has also criticized the Modi government over alleged political interference in statistical data and over a program to take cash out of the economy.

There was no immediate comment from Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Twitter, where he is an active user.

Colleagues, meanwhile, applauded the news.

“Well deserved!” French economist Thomas Piketty, whose work focuses on wealth and income inequality, wrote on Twitter.

Max Roser, a University of Oxford researcher who founded the Our World in Data project, said the news was “fantastic.”

“Even after two centuries of progress against global poverty I think it is clearly one of the very biggest problems in the world today.”

In awarding the prize, the academy noted that more than 700 million people survive on extremely low incomes and that 5 million children die every year of diseases that can be prevented or cured with inexpensive treatments. Half of all children leave school without basic literacy or numeracy skills.

Officially known as the Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, the award wasn’t created by the prize founder but is considered to be part of the Nobel stable of awards.

It was created by Riksbanken, the Swedish central bank, in 1968, and the first winner was selected a year later.

With the glory comes a 9-million-kronor ($918,000) cash award, a gold medal and a diploma.

Last week, six Nobel prizes were given — medicine, physics and chemistry plus two literature awards, and the coveted Peace Prize.

All but the winner of the Peace Prize receive the award on Dec. 10 — the anniversary of Nobel’s death in 1896 — in Stockholm. The winner of the Peace Prize receives the award in Oslo, Norway.