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Development economics: people, choices, and well-being

Published on April 12, 2017   33 min
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Welcome to this second Henry Stewart Talk on Development Economics. I'm Julie Schaffner, I'm a Development Economist in The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.
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In the first talk of this series, we defined development as a process of economic and social change that brings sustained and widespread improvements in well-being. This definition raises two fundamental questions for the study of development, both of which point to the importance of taking a close look at the people who live in developing countries. First, what is well-being? What are the ways that life could improve for people that would constitute the improvements in well-being that we hope for in successful development? Answering this question is important for defining the objectives that should guide development work. Second, what levers might development actors such as governments, non-governmental organization, social entrepreneurs, and others use to raise household's we'll-being? How can the policies they put in place ultimately connect with people in ways that raise their well-being? I see this as a useful starting point for brainstorming about development policy where I'm using the term policy very broadly to mean all the kinds of programs, initiatives, or reforms that development actors of many types might undertake with the aim of contributing to development. So these are the big questions we want to begin answering in this talk. As we do, I'll be using two key terms that I would like to define upfront.
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First is the term "Household." A household is usually defined as a group of people who live together in a shared residence location and eat meals together. For development economists, the household is the default unit of analysis for studying people and we'll-being because the members of a household share in common many living conditions like housing quality and food that are important to well-being. They also face many common challenges and often have to take on the challenges in a way that involves cooperation or some kind of division of labor. A foundational assumption in development economics is that a household's members make many important choices seeking at least roughly to maximize well-being as they understand it subject to important constraints. I think this assumption has been validated and enriched by decades of careful empirical research in developing countries. This assumption highlights first that households are decision makers. They're active participants in development. They're not just passive recipients of development. Second, they make choices with an eye to advancing their own well-being. This suggests that we can learn about what matters to them about this important question of what well-being is by observing the choices they make in the activities they undertake. And third, it highlights that households work at pursuing well-being subject to important constraints. This suggests that if we want to learn about the levers that development actors might use to raise a household's well-being, we should pay careful attention to the constraints households face in their pursuit of well-being and essentially brainstorm about ways of relaxing those constraints. This leads us to the second term I'd like to define...
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Development economics: people, choices, and well-being

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