Book Details

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More Than Good Intentions:
How a New Economics is Helping to Solve Global Poverty

When it comes to global poverty, people are passionate and polarized. At one extreme: We just need to invest more resources. At the other: We’ve thrown billions down a sinkhole over the last fifty years and accomplished almost nothing.

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Release date April 14, 2011

Dean Karlan and Jacob Appel present an entirely new approach that blazes an optimistic and realistic trail between these two extremes. In this pioneering book Karlan and Appel combine behavioral economics with worldwide field research that take readers with them into villages across Africa, India, South America, and the Philippines, where economic theory collides with real life. They show how small changes in banking, insurance, health care, and other development initiatives that take into account human irrationality can drastically improve the well-being of poor people everywhere.

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Savings for Change Project, Mali

We in the developed world have found ways to make our own lives profoundly better. We use new tools to spend smarter, save more, eat better, and lead lives more like the ones we imagine. These tools can do the same for the impoverished. Karlan and Appel's research, and those of some close colleagues, show exactly how.

In America alone, individual donors contribute over two hundred billion to charity annually, three times as much as corporations, foundations, and bequests combined. More Than Good Intentions provides a new way to understand what really works to reduce poverty; in so doing, it reveals how to better invest that money and begin transforming the well-being of the world.

Excerpt from the Book

Morning in the harbor at Marina del Rey in Los Angeles is steely bright, and it smells of brine and of fish, and it is filled with the sound of pelicans. They congregate by the hundreds on the end of the jetty, strutting and chattering and throwing their heads back to slug down great bulging beakfuls of breakfast. Completely absorbed in the guzzling of their food, they seem not to notice the dinghies puttering by.

Jake was in one of those dinghies with his girlfriend Chelsea and her father, returning from a short ride out on the gentle rolling swell of the Pacific. They passed the gray-brown pelicans on the gray-brown rocks and continued into the marina. Coming down the causeway, they passed the gas pumps, the big prow of the Catalina ferry, and the Buddhist monks.

Yes, the Buddhist monks: those unassuming men and women, some dressed in saffron robes and others in street clothes, standing on the dock around a folding card table on which was erected a little altar with a statue of a sitting Buddha and an oil lamp. On the ground in front of the table was a plastic tub as big as a steamer trunk. From the boat, low in the water, Jake couldn’t see what was inside. They were saying prayers over it.

Chelsea’s father put the boat into idle and turned in a half-circle to stay even with the monks. They came to the end of their prayer and bowed deeply, and the two closest to the bin took it by the handles and dragged it forward to the edge of the dock. Then they tipped it.

Out came a great torrent of water and minnows, which landed in the causeway with a silvery clatter. The minnows disappeared instantly, darting away in every direction, and the ripples from the splash were drawn down the causeway to the ocean by the outgoing tide. The monks bowed again, deeply, and began to pack up their things.

What Jake had seen, Chelsea told him afterward, was a regular ritual. Those particular Buddhist monks set a tubful of fish free every couple of weeks. It was their small way of setting right something they believed was wrong. They didn’t think those fish ought to be killed, so they bought their freedom. They would approach some fishermen, purchase their day’s catch, say a prayer, and release the fish into the causeway to return to the ocean.

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