Abhijit Banerjee: The central point of our book is that there isn't a single answer, that the question itself is wrong. There is no single action that is going to solve the problem of poverty. There are perhaps a few hundred steps that we need to take, each of which will do something, as long as we take the right steps. There is no evidence that we could adopt one step that is far more important than the others. I think that the one-size-fits-all recipe for tackling poverty is an illusion. It is a convenient illusion, so that you can believe that you can solve the problem with a single step. But this does not seem to be supported by data.
Knowledge@Wharton: But surely of those hundreds of steps, there must be some crucial ones that come to mind when you talk of eliminating poverty?
Duflo: Yes, there are some crucial steps. I can't say they are the most important but these, as we know today, are very effective. However, that is not to say that in the future there will not be other steps which would be even more effective.
According to our current state of knowledge, there is a zone of shadow where we are not sure exactly what to do. But there are some things we do know that work across sectors. Educating children, for example, is one of them -- imparting quality education to them right from a young age. Similarly, there could be positive social and political impact of health care for the poor, which includes steps like better access to preventive health [and] finding ways to put iron, vitamins, etc., in the food that poor people consume, which we know will be good from a medical point of view. Giving an asset -- like a cow -- to extremely poor people, and then some help in taking care of that asset, also works. These, we feel, are some of the effective steps that can be taken in the initiative towards ending poverty."