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Book recommendation

Banerjee, A.V. & E. Duflo (2019),

Good Economics for Hard Times. Better Answers to Our Biggest Problems. United Kingdom: Allen Lane/ Penguin Random House.

In 2019, Abhijit Banerjee was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences along with his two co-researchers Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer. They received the prize  “for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty”. Just before they received the prize Banerjee and Duflo, both development economists, published this book that confirms their great contribution to not only economic sciences, but indeed many more disciplines and topics. Let me try and make this clear in a few sentences that are mostly literal quotes.

The conclusion of the book ends with the sentence: “Economics is too important to be left to economists.”(p. 326). The book has critical chapters on key economic issues: immigration, trade, growth, inequality and environment. For IILME and migration scholars the chapter on Immigration (entitled “From the mouth of the shark”), on Trade (“The pains from Trade”) and on Distribution /Inequality (“Likes, Wants and Needs”) are the most interesting ones.

As to the consequences of Immigration, they remark: “So one very big problem with the supply-demand analysis applied to immigration is that an influx of migrants increases the demand for labour at the same time it increases the supply of laborers. This is one reason why wages do not go down when there are more migrants. A deeper problem lies in the very nature of labor markets: supply-demand is just not a very good description of how they really work.” (p. 27). On the essence of migration they state: “The real migration crisis is not that there is too much international migration. Most of the time, migration comes at no economic cost to the native population, and it delivers clear benefits to the migrants. The real problem is that people are often unable or unwilling to move, within and outside their country of birth, to take advantage of economic opportunities” (p. 47).

On Trade and migration: ”The overarching takeaway is that we need to address the pain that goes with the need to change, to move, to lose one’s understanding of what is a good life and a good job. Economists and policy makers were blindsided by the hostile reaction to free trade, even though they have long known that as a class workers were likely to suffer from trade in rich countries and benefit from it in poor countries. The reason is they have taken it for granted that workers would be able to move jobs or places, or both, and if they were not able to do this, it was somehow their failing. This belief has colored social policy, and set up the conflict between the “losers” and the rest that we are experiencing today” (p. 97).

On Inequality their critique on economists is that they have no means to see how social processes of distinction and prejudice do work behind the seemingly neutral terms of needs, wants and preferences. These social processes may lead to inequality where market dynamics would not predict these.

These are just a few insightful quotes. But maybe the most important indirect message of Banerjee and Duflo’s book for migration scholars is: be critical on narrowly defined disciplinary approaches and issues, especially in migration studies.


Gouda, 19-10-2020

Rinus Penninx