Interview | Korea should prioritise raising quality of life over indiscriminate growth, argue economists

Co-founders and co-directors of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) and Nobel Laureates in economics, Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, discuss basic income, redistribution and quality life in an interview with Hankyoreh.

Esther says, "There is now quite a bit of evidence from all over the world — rich countries, poor countries — that this effect of receiving social transfer programs makes people less likely to work is not there. Of course, it might depend on people, it might differ by context and we don’t know exactly for Korea. But there is an experiment underway that will, I think, answer the question. There’s a new safety income project which is much more generous than the current national level policy. They just released the first year’s results a few days ago, but we are going to find out more in the years to come. Then policy can be adjusted as a consequence."

Abhijit adds, "In fact, we have been working on this for many years on this exact question. The basic fact is that, at least in poorer countries, there’s no evidence that giving people cash transfers makes them work less. If anything, maybe in some places they work more. I want to say that this may be different for the elderly, because some of the elderly are working because they have no choice. But for most young people, people hate not having something to do."


On Friday, the Hankyoreh sat down with MIT economics professors Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee in Seoul’s Myeongdong area for an interview. The two were jointly awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2019 for increasing humanity’s capacity to eradicate poverty across the globe.The couple was in Korea to participate in the Seoul International Forum on Safety Income.

Duflo advised that Korea not obsess over tax cuts, which have yet to be shown to have any efficacy, while Banerjee said that instead of prioritizing growth above all else, Korea should shift its economic objectives to raising the quality of life for its people.