‘As a Student of Economics…’ Why Manmohan Singh is Delighted by Abhijit Banerjee’s Nobel Win


New Delhi: Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday gave his “heartiest” congratulations to Indian-origin economist Abhijit Banerjee for winning the 2019 Nobel Economics Prize for his work in fighting poverty.

In a letter, the senior Congress leader said it gave him immense pleasure and pride to know that Banerjee is now the second Indian to win the Nobel Prize in Economics after “dear friend” Amartya Sen, who had won the honour in 1998.

“I am delighted to know that your wife Esther Duflo is also a winner jointly of this Nobel Prize of Economics,” he wrote.

Praising his scholarly work on poverty alleviation and development of new techniques such as randomised control trials, Singh described it as truly path-breaking.

Banerjee had founded the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), which has carried out 568 field experiments, or Randomised Control Trials (RCTs), in 10 years in several countries, including India.

This includes pollution control audit in Gujarat, MNREGA experiments, and a series of partnerships with the government of Tamil Nadu.

“I am particularly pleased, as a student of economics, that the Committee chose to honour pioneering innovations in development economics that are very applicable and useful to policy making in developing countries such as India,” Singh added.

When Singh was the Prime Minister, he had considered adding Banerjee to his core economic policy team in 2012. A planning commission member said Singh after meeting Banerjee had seen great potential in him at that time too.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which hands out the Nobel for Economics, said innovative research by Banerjee and Duflo and their extensive field studies in India have played a decisive role in reshaping research in development economics.

This year's Laureates have shown how the problem of global poverty can be tackled by breaking it down into a number of smaller - but more precise - questions at individual or group levels, the website of RSAS said.

Over just 20 years, this approach has completely reshaped research in the field known as development economics. This new research is now delivering a steady flow of concrete results, helping to alleviate the problems of global poverty, it said.

It said the results of their studies and field experiments had ranged from helping millions of Indian schoolchildren with remedial tutoring to encouraging governments around the world to increase funding for preventative medicine.

Banerjee was educated at the University of Calcutta, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and Harvard University, where he received his Ph.D in 1988. He is currently the Ford Foundation International Professor of Economics at the MIT.