HC231H: Poverty, Economics, and Global Responses

Professor: Alfredo Burlando

4.00 credits

  • CRN 21046: Monday & Wednesday, 1400-1520 @ ANS 192

Across many parts of Africa, South Asia and Latin America, thousands of development workers are hard at work trying to address one of the great global challenges of our modern era: the worldwide elimination of poverty. While the goal is shared, approaches used to try to reduce or eliminate poverty are diverse and not agreed upon. The busy playing field of poverty reduction work is filled with organizations that disagree about the best methods and strategies, the right areas of focus, and even the foundational philosophies of why the work is important/justified/necessary. Whether it’s a local NGO, international organization, multilateral agency, transnational partnership, or foreign aid agency, every organization has a “success story” to share. These narratives are often used as evidence of their particular program’s success and as justification of their particular approach. But how do we know these success stories are true—and that they collectively add up to measurable and meaningful “success” in reducing or eliminating poverty?

This class provides a framework to address the question of determining “success” in the realm of poverty alleviation programs by focusing on various metrics of effectiveness used in the field of development economics. Students will be introduced to Randomized Control Trials (RCTs), learning how this experimental method took over the field in the past two decades, how and why it has upended the way most development work is done, and why this tool has been so controversial—leading critics to call proponents “randomistas”. Drawing on the faculty member’s expertise designing, running, and critiquing RCTs, students will work together in a set of innovative activities to study, and critique, the process of creating an RCT, from initial questions to final reporting and dissemination to policymakers and the general public. Through this detailed inquiry into development economics responses to global poverty, students will become familiar with:  the measurement of global poverty; common and innovative anti-poverty programs; and tradeoffs between program targeting and program effectiveness.