Thursday, December 11, 2014

Economics That Really Matters

A group of junior researchers and graduate students in Cornell University’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management recently founded a blog to facilitate an exchange of ideas, largely drawn from development and agricultural economics, about how to best help the poor improve their living conditions. The blog’s name, Economics That Really Matters, pays tribute to agricultural economist Theodore Schultz, who opened his 1979 Nobel Prize acceptance speech with the following:

Most of the people in the world are poor, so if we knew the economics of being poor, we would know much of the economics that really matters. Most of the world’s poor people earn their living from agriculture, so if we knew the economics of agriculture, we would know much of the economics of being poor. [Emphasis added]

As mentioned in the blog’s inaugural post, Schultz was recognized for his work on the concept of human capital in economic and agricultural development. Raised on a farm in South Dakota, Schultz was known for gaining theoretical insights from visits to farms and interviews with farmers. With such insights, he challenged many of the notions regarding the inefficiency of poor farmers in developing countries by demonstrating that these farmers were simply responding to the incentives and constraints of local agricultural policies. Schultz has been recognized for successfully arguing that the agricultural sector has an important role to play in the growth of developing countries, bringing agricultural development back into the foreground of economics.

Inspired by Schultz’s belief that the economics of being poor is the economics that really matters, the founders of the blog hope to kindle greater interest in and comprehension of the economics of poverty and agricultural development through the dissemination and discussion of their work within the broader community of economists and development practitioners.

In its first month the blog has already featured many topical discussions, including analysis of the concept of resiliencemethods for improving the quality of survey data with an example from western Kenya, the relationship between gender and intergenerational income mobility in the Philippines, the relationship between politics and the MNREGA program in India, and the costs of deforestation in Indonesia. At the time of writing, the site,, has been visited by over 1,800 readers, has received over 3,500 page views, and was mentioned on two influential and topically related blogs, Marginal Revolution and the World Bank’s Development Impact blog.

The founders anticipate that this blog will continue to provide space for the discussion of development economics both within and beyond the Cornell community. They welcome comments and contributions at You can also follow them on Twitter: @econthatmatters.

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