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Abhijit Banerjee: Erudite economist’s remarkable academic journey from Kolkata to Massachusetts

By Vishal S

New Delhi, Oct 14: Kolkata-born Abhijit Banerjee, his wife Esther Duflo and another economist Michael Kremer jointly won the 2019 Nobel Economics Prize "for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty."

Banerjee and French-American Duflo both work at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, while Kremer is at Harvard University. Banerjee, 58, was educated at the University of Calcutta, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Harvard University, where he received his Ph.D in 1988. He is currently the Ford Foundation International Professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, according to his profile on the MIT website.

Bespectacled economist’s remarkable academic journey

The Presidency University, Jawaharlal Nehru University and South Point School in the city, the alma mater of Nobel laureate for economics Abhijit Banerjee on Monday expressed their pride and happiness over his being named as a joint winner of the prestigious award.

Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee at a news conference at MIT

Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee at a news conference at MIT

Abhijit Banerjee, who jointly won the 2019 Nobel Economics Prize with his wife Esther Duflo and Harvard professor Michael Kremer, on Monday said he is delighted that work focussed on the world's poorest people has been awarded the prestigious prize and it honours all the people working on the ground for poverty alleviation.

The prize "reflects on the fact that somehow while we often pay lip service to the welfare of all, this is something that not always (is the) immediate focus of a prize like this," Banerjee said in an interview to NobelPrize.org.

[Modi congratulates Abhijit Banerjee, so does Rahul but with "Modinomics" twist to it]

He said he is delighted that "some attention was thrown this way."

"Not that I think all the other things that they get prizes for aren't important. But it does make people who work in this area feel a little more enthused. Lots of people in this world, who do real things, not people like us, people who do real things, this is somewhat of a prize for all of them," he said.

Abhijit Banerjee’s wife Esther Duflo

Abhijit Banerjee’s wife Esther Duflo

Duflo, the 46-year-old former advisor to ex-US president Barack Obama, is the second woman and the youngest ever to win the economics prize.

"We are incredibly happy and humbled," Duflo was quoted as saying by the MIT News.

"We feel very fortunate to see this kind of work being recognised." "We're fortunate to see this kind of work being recognised," Duflo told MIT News, noting that their work was "born at MIT and supported by MIT."

[Banerjee-Esther Duflo, the sixth couple to win Nobel Prize jointly; the first, Marie, Pierre curie]

She called the work in this area a "collective effort" and said that "we could not have created a movement without hundreds of researchers and staff members." The Nobel award, she said, also represented this collective enterprise, and was "larger than our work."

Duflo added that she and Banerjee were "absolutely delighted to share this award with Kremer," calling his work an "inspiration" for antipoverty researchers.

Gates Professor of Developing Societies at Harvard University - Michael Kremer

Gates Professor of Developing Societies at Harvard University - Michael Kremer

Kremer is a former MIT faculty member who served at the Institute from 1993 to 1999, and remains an affiliated professor with J-PAL; he is currently the Gates Professor of Developing Societies at Harvard University.

The three award-winners have known each other since the mid-1990s and have long viewed their research efforts as being intellectually aligned.

Nancy Rose, department head and the Charles P Kindleberger Professor of Applied Economics, said, "Esther and Banerjee have been exceptional colleagues and contributors to the MIT economics department."

[Who is Abhijit Banerjee? Indian-American who won Nobel Prize in economics]

"Their passion for the power of economics to do good in the world inspires us all, and their generosity and compassion in working with students and colleagues has propelled countless careers forward. We couldn't be more thrilled for this recognition of all they have done."

Rose added that "Abhijit, Esther, and Michael's work shows economic research at its finest. They have not only transformed the way economists approach the study of poverty and development economics, but deployed their findings to improve the lives of hundreds of million people across the globe.

Their founding of MIT's J-PAL has created a vibrant network of scholars who are bringing evidence-based antipoverty policy into every corner of the world."

Abhijit Banerjee’s mother Nirmala Banerjee

Abhijit Banerjee’s mother Nirmala Banerjee

Nirmala Banerjee, the mother of Nobel Prize winner Abhijit Banerjee, said it was a proud moment for her and she is very happy for his achievements. She said she is also happy as one of the joint winners of the prestigious award is her daughter-in-law Esther Duflo.

Nirmala Banerjee herself is a former professor of economics at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences and her husband Dipak Banerjee was a professor and the head of the department of Economics at then Presidency College (now University).

[Mumbai born Abhijit Banerjee, wife Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer win 2019 Nobel Prize in economics]

"I am very happy and proud of his achievements. I am yet to speak to him. I think he must be sleeping as it's still night in the US," she said.

"He was always a brilliant and a disciplined student," she recalled. About her 47-year-old daughter-in-law Esther Duflo, Banerjee said "She is so young and so intelligent".

"He did great work in understanding poverty and how the poor survived. At times we used to discuss various topics and issues on economics. He has also spoken on economic issues our country is facing presently," Nirmala Banerjee said.

    PM Modi meets Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee

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