six questions with development impact
Rohini Pande is Mohammed Kamal Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, where she also co-directs their Evidence for Policy Design (EPoD) program. She has described her research as examining the economic costs and benefits of informal and formal institutions in the developing world and the role of public policy in changing these.
1. You have worked on a range of different topics – including rural banking and microfinance, governance, environmental regulation, son preference, and housing – but almost exclusively in one country, India. When you think about your broad research agenda, how to you think about the tradeoffs involved in focusing deeply on one country, vs exploring these topics in different places?
Starting with my PhD work on political reservations in India, I have been fascinated by the why and how of public policy in democracies and, in particular, how the political and social context shapes the choice of policy. I have also found that viewing problems of economic development through a political lens that engages with questions of power creates links across questions and topics that might before have seemed disparate.
Once you adopt this perspective, the advantage of focussing on a single country becomes apparent. Over time, one begins to understand how power structures operate and which policy lessons are generalizable and which remain specific to a location. The Indian economist Jean Drèze, who very much inspired my career choice to become a development economist, told me that he has never been to Africa. “Once I got to India,” he said, “there was more than enough for me to do for a lifetime.” His most recent book – Sense and Solidarity – provides a strong rationale for an action-research agenda that is focussed on a single country.
- Let’s start with your approach to teaching development economics at the graduate level. The class when you taught David in 1999 was heavy on the agricultural household model and understanding micro development through different types of market failures. Most classes would involve in-depth discussion of one or at most two papers, with a student assigned most weeks to lead this discussion. There was a lot of discussion of the empirical methods in different papers, but no replication tasks and the only empirical work was as part of a term paper. How has your approach to teaching development changed (or not) since this time?
Try as I might, I have made little progress on changing my basic approach to teaching. The papers and topics have changed, but the essence of my graduate teaching remains the in-depth discussion of a paper or two each class. I’ve tried to expand the use of problem sets, and had a number of years of replication assignments. The first was hindered by my own inadequate energy (it’s hard making up decent questions!). I found that replication exercises required too much time and effort in data cleaning by students relative to their learning gain. Students were spending too much time cleaning, merging and recreating variables and too little time thinking about the ideas in the paper. I’ll reassess assigning replication this year, because there may now be enough well-documented replication datasets and programs available. With these as a starting point, it would be possible to get quickly into substantive issues in the context of a replication.