Obama’s new French economic adviser has ‘faith in redistribution’

Patrick Howley Political Reporter
Font Size:

The French economist selected by President Barack Obama to serve as one of his top second-term global development advisers reportedly has “faith in redistribution,” supported far left-wing political theories and leaders, and provided the intellectual framework for French Socialist President Francois Hollande’s electoral victory, records reveal.

Obama announced his intent late last month to appoint French economist and MIT professor Esther Duflo to the President’s Global Development Council, a new governmental advisory board that Obama created by executive order last year. Obama announced bond investor Mohamed A. El-Erian as his pick to chair the council.

The council “will be comprised of no more than 12 individuals from  a variety of sectors outside the Federal Government, including, among others, institutions of higher education, non-profit and philanthropic organizations, civil society, and private industry,” according to a 2012 White House press release. “The Council will inform and provide advice to the President and other senior U.S. officials on U.S. global development policies and practices.”

Duflo, who is 40 years old, is the Abdul Latif Jameel professor of poverty alleviation and development economics at MIT and the co-founder and director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, which was initially funded by Saudi billionaire Mohammed Abdul Latif Jameel.

Duflo’s appointment by Obama might have directly political motivations.

During Socialist Francois Hollande’s successful 2012 French presidential campaign, his three voter mobilization strategists, all former Harvard or MIT students, applied theories they first learned from Duflo, whose experiments “when applied to electioneering, had quantified the ability of a single door knock to deliver a vote.”

The tactics behind Hollande’s “campaign operation aimed at nonvoters” were first employed by Obama’s 2008 campaign and were most fully realized during Obama’s 2012 campaign, when a powerful voter database enabled Obama staffers to register new voters based on demographic and behavioral trends.

These tactics helped “alter the very nature of the electorate” in 2012, according to the New York Times, “making it younger and less white.”

Duflo has been praised for her “faith in redistribution.” At least one report has also identified her as a “socialist.”

“She is a left-of-center French intellectual with faith in redistribution and she subscribes to the optimistic notion that tomorrow might turn out better than today. She is in large measure responsible for a new, and fashionable, strand of academic study that combines these instincts,” according to a 2010 New Yorker profile.

“She is a statist,” Cato Institute senior fellow Daniel Mitchell confirmed to The Daily Caller.

Duflo has been widely praised in media and academic circles for adhering to an “evidence-based” research strategy for determining how best to help the world’s poor.

“This approach, refined in India, has a natural audience in Obama’s Washington. The administration, which insisted on efficacy studies for treatment in Obamacare, wants to place U.S. development assistance on a similar evidence-based path,” according to a recent Daily Beast piece that labeled Duflo “poverty’s rock star.”

But the evidence cited in some of Duflo’s work favors conventional left-wing solutions, and her writing outright favors left-wing world leaders.

Duflo wrote about the negative consequences of “fast growth” as it relates to economic inequality in a 2011 paper. The paper sought to develop “a long term strategy to balance growth with equity” in “policies that maximizes the chance that the poor are able to fully participate in markets, so that when growth starts, they can benefit from it.”

Duflo wrote that “inequality can lead to less political stability,” that the “distribution of wealth” is not “irrelevant for investment,” and that “greater inequality can lead to less investment and less growth.” She also wrote that “Violence levels are have sharply increased in countries with very high level of inequality.”

“The experience of Brazil may be an illustration of the large negative effects of fast growth on inequality. In the 1960s and 1970s, fast growth accompanied with large increases in inequality fueled populist demands that eventually gave rise to hyper-inflation and stopped economic growth. When President Lula assumed office, and could credibly commit to help the poor with more long-term policies, the macro-economic situation stabilized, which created conditions for more permanent growth,” Duflo wrote.

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, also known as “Lula,” is the founder of Brazil’s left-wing Worker’s Party. During his presidency, Lula implemented the largest social welfare program in the world.

Follow Patrick on Twitter