Esther Duflo vs Elinor Ostrom

5 Sep, 2019 at 18:45 | Posted in Economics | Comments Off on Esther Duflo vs Elinor Ostrom

elinor-ostromWhile both authors subscribe to realism, they practise two types of realism. The realism supported by Duflo is akin to a naive ‘metrological realism’ … in which quantification is seen as merely mirroring reality within a margin of error, whereas Ostrom seems closer to critical realism and constructivism: the way we perceive and quantify reality is moulded by our cognitive maps and conventions. The rationales of the social scientist and of the economic actors are also distinctive. Whereas, Duflo underlines the objectivity and rightness of the scientist applying sound techniques – which contrasts with the lack of information and the restrained horizon of local actors – Ostrom emphasises the processual, bounded and interpretative rationality of both the researcher and the observed actors. This leads to diverging views and normative agendas regarding development, politics and economics.

esther_dufloDuflo sees development as the implementation and replication of expert-led fixes to provide basic goods for the poor who are often blinded by their exacting situation. It is a technical quest for certainty and optimal measures in a fairly static framework. For the Ostroms, there are no best practices, only a few architectonic principles to build locally resilient orders. They view development as a situated learning process under uncertainty …

In Duflo’s science-based ‘benevolent paternalism’, the experimental technique works as an ‘anti-politics machine’ … social goals being predefined and RCT outcomes settling ideally ambiguities and conflicts. Real-world politics – disregarding or instrumentalising RCTs – and institutions – resulting from social compromises instead of evidence – are thus often perceived as external disturbances and constraints to economic science and evidence-based policy. This depoliticising stance is at odds with the significance of political economy for the Ostroms, their emphasis on deliberation to co-construct the aspirations and agencies of communities. While Duflo and Banerjee are in line with a technocratic democracy, the Ostroms sustain a Tocquevillean democratic self-governance. For the latter, institutions emanating from democratic processes, far from being straitjackets, are the core of economic processes. They simultaneously constraint and enable human action.

Agnès Labrousse

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