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Duflo, Esther. Field Experiments in Development Economics
2006, Advances in Economics and Econometrics: Theory and Applications, Ninth World Congress (Econometric Society Monographs), R. Blundell, W. Newey, & T. Persson (eds.), 322-348
Added by: Björn Freter, Contributed by: Johanna Thoma
Abstract: There is a long tradition in development economics of collecting original data to test specific hypotheses. Over the last 10 years, this tradition has merged with an expertise in setting up randomized field experiments, resulting in an increasingly large number of studies where an original experiment has been set up to test economic theories and hypotheses. This paper extracts some substantive and methodological lessons from such studies in three domains: incentives, social learning, and time-inconsistent preferences. The paper argues that we need both to continue testing existing theories and to start thinking of how the theories may be adapted to make sense of the field experiment results, many of which are starting to challenge them. This new framework could then guide a new round of experiments.

Comment: Duflo, of the MIT Poverty Action Lab and recent Nobel Prize Winner, summarizes some of the successes of randomized field evaluations in development economics. She then argues that the way forward for development economics should indeed involve some theorizing, but theorizing on the basis of our new empirical evidence - which might end up looking quite different from standard economic theory. This is a very useful (opinionated) introduction to field experiments for a week on field experiments in a philosophy of economics or philosophy of the social sciences course.


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