• March 19, 2015

By Pooja Pokhrel

March 16, 2015–We economists\r\nwho work in development know that our task is more an art than a science. We\r\nknow that our work requires more flexibility and judgment than rigor and rules.\r\nWe know that life is not a laboratory.

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Yet, we\r\ninsist on treating economics as a science in development programs?even as we\r\nrefuse to be the ?one-handed? economists that Harry Truman longed for.

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Some\r\nreconciliation to this dilemma came to me during one of my meditation sessions.\r\n(One might question whether I was trying to find God, or to solve a puzzle I\r\nbrought from work! But that?s another discussion altogether.)

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As I\r\nstruggled to focus my mind where it artlessly reached and maintained a state of\r\nsteadiness, it struck me that economics tries to do the same. Economists\r\nadvocate allowing markets to work spontaneously to find equilibrium?much like\r\nspiritual practices that aim to uplift one?s consciousness to a state where it\r\nis in equilibrium with its being.

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And\r\ninstructions from a guru on the path\r\nof spirituality are like economic principles that shape the path to economic progress.\r\nThe guru? instructions may be identical but the journey for each individual on\r\nthe path will vary with his or her subjective experience and psychological\r\ngrowth. Economic principles, too, guide development programs, but the progress chart\r\nfor each program will vary with the unique circumstances of each?local culture,\r\ncustom, history, the absorptive capacity\r\nof organizations, even language.

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The\r\nspiritualist and the development economist would do well to accept this\r\nreality: that what we individually achieve is infinitely small in the larger\r\nscheme of things and that much of what we confront is often far beyond our\r\ncontrol. Acceptance brings relief and allows us to approach the task at hand\r\nwith a certain amount of humility.

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Our goal,\r\nthen, is to approach our respective disciplines as a science?following foundational\r\nprinciples and holding ourselves accountable to the standards that these\r\nprinciples dictate. But we acknowledge that the application of these principles\r\nin achieving results is almost certainly an art. In this way, we treat\r\ndevelopment economics as a cooperative art versus\r\na productive art.

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The\r\nalternative is to follow whim and create a collective chaos!

Pooja Pokhrel designs and manages complex international\r\ndevelopment projects and provides economic analysis that supports macroeconomic\r\nand public financial management, private sector development, and trade\r\nexpansion. Before joining Nathan in 2007, she worked in Nepal as a research\r\nassistant and then as consultant for the United Nations Development Program in\r\nSri Lanka.

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