The real Washington consensus

Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, co-founders and co-directors of Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) and 2019 Nobel laureates in economics, argue that "speculating on a grand scale" does not inform specifics around policies successes and failures in poverty alleviation, and propose a localised and nuanced approach that considers factors such as hard incentives and existing behaviours in a given environment to effectively implement solutions.


Among American foreign policy whisperers and assessors of the state of the world, no one had a more checkered reputation than Walt Rostow—academic economist, influential author, adviser to presidents, and, as the U.S. diplomat Averell Harriman once called him bitingly, “America’s Rasputin.” In the administrations of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, nearly every strategic move Rostow advocated turned out to be wrong, from escalating the commitment of U.S. combat troops for South Vietnam to rejecting peace talks with the North Vietnamese. Since he continued to defend those positions after most other people had concluded they were mistakes, his name became a byword for a specific kind of Washington virtue: offering terrible advice but at least doing so consistently. “[Zbigniew] Brzezinski aspires to be the Henry Kissinger of this administration,” the historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., noted in his diary in May 1978 as the administration of President Jimmy Carter was developing a harder line toward the Soviet Union. “I fear he will end up the Walt Rostow.”

Foreign Affairs