Interview Insights: Dr Jean Dreze

Dr Jean Drèze is a Belgian-born Indian economist, social scientist and activist. He has worked on several developmental issues facing India like hunger, famine, gender inequality. studied Mathematical Economics at the University of Essex and did his Ph.D. at the Indian Statistical Institute, New Delhi. His co-authors include Nobel laureate in economics Amartya Sen, with whom he has written on famine, Nicholas Stern, with whom he has written on policy reform when market prices are distorted, and Nobel laureate in economics Angus Deaton. Dr Jean has taught at the London School of Economics and is currently an honorary Professor at the Delhi School of Economics, and Visiting Professor at the Department of Economics, Ranchi University.

Sir, what are your primary research interests? What drew you to those areas?

My research interests include nutrition, health, education, employment, equity and other aspects of social development. They gradually emerged from various experiences I had soon after coming to India – making friends in the slums of Delhi, witnessing communal violence there in 1984, living in a village of Uttar Pradesh, and so on.

Benjamin Franklin once said – Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn. How can we inspire students to want not only to gain knowledge for a career but to enjoy learning?

Ideally, we should reform the education system to make it less competitive and exam-oriented. Meanwhile, within the limits of the existing system, we can try to foster participation, collaboration and creativity, and to relate academic knowledge to the real world.

What expertise or skill set is most important to you in your research work?

Collaborative skills and intellectual integrity.

If you had the ability to go back in time, what advice would you give to your sixteen-year-old self?

Be gentle with the powerless and firm with the powerful.

What is one superpower you would like to have?

The power of omnipotence – rest will follow.

If you had a time machine, which famous personality would you want to interact with?

Savitribai Phule

What is the best book you would recommend?

Mutual Aid, by Peter Kropotkin

What other subjects do you like aside from Economics?

History and anthropology

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