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Nobel Prize in Economics Awarded to Harvard Professor Michael Kremer

Littauer Center for Public Administration Building is home to the Economics Department.
Littauer Center for Public Administration Building is home to the Economics Department. By Mia B. Frothingham
By Joshua C. Fang and Jeromel Dela Rosa Lara, Contributing Writers

Economics Professor Michael Kremer ’85 had just finished riding his bike to the London School of Economics Monday morning when he saw a message on Skype, asking to talk “urgently.”

Assuming it was a scam message, Kremer said he began to respond but was interrupted by someone congratulating him.

“For what?” he asked.

Earlier that day, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences had awarded Kremer — along with MIT Economics Professors Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo — the Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences.

The award recognized the trio’s “experimental approach to alleviating global poverty,” according to a press release from the academy.

“In just two decades, their new experiment-based approach has transformed development economics, which is now a flourishing field of research,” the academy wrote. “The Laureates’ research findings – and those of the researchers following in their footsteps – have dramatically improved our ability to fight poverty in practice.”

Kremer’s research consists of conducting experiments to explore the root causes of poverty in developing countries, according to the press release. He frequently works with government agencies and nonprofit organizations to develop innovative policies in fields such as education, healthcare, and microfinance.

Kremer said the award served as a nod of recognition to everyone doing research in the field of development economics.

“The field of development economics has really undergone tremendous growth in the past few decades,” he said. “We’re bringing in a lot of perspectives not to replace but to complement the standard analytic approaches that economists have.”

Kremer received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1992 and served on MIT's for six years before returning to Harvard as a professor. He is also a MacArthur Fellow and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Economics Professor Oliver Hart, who won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, said the work of this year’s recipients has made significant impacts on both academic economics research and policy.

“They’ve transformed development economics by moving in this direction of carrying out controlled experiments at the local level and trying to find out what treatments work, both with respect to education and with respect to health,” Hart said. “People have learned what works and what doesn’t, and that has allowed policymakers to do things which make people better off.

Economics Department Chair Jeremy Stein added that the trio pioneered a “revolution in the way people do development economics.”

Stein also noted that this year’s laureates were particularly young. At 46, Duflo is the youngest person to receive this honor and the second woman ever.

“Typically with economics, they tend to wait till people are really quite old, and this is a younger group,” Stein said. “They’re not only recognizing the work, but they’re recognizing that the work has already had such a big impact that there’s no reason to wait any longer.”

“I think it’s just terrific,” Stein added.

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