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Chat with Nobel Prize laureate


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Chat with Nobel Prize laureate


lKremer-Michael

Michael Kremer, the winner of the 2019 Economics Nobel Prize. PHOTO | POOL

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Summary

  • The Harvard University graduate is a Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago and the director of the Development Innovation lab.
  • He is also a 2019 Nobel Prize Laureate, the winner of the 2019 Economics Nobel Prize.
  • His research focuses on finding innovative solutions to address poverty, health, education, agriculture, and safe water.

When Professor Michael Kremer rises from his seat he towers at 6’4″. A notepad with lots of incomprehensible scribbles sits by his elbow, his empty laptop bag flopped by the legs of his table in that way your young and hungry son might absentmindedly discard his school bag at the doorway of the kitchen.

There is a charming boyishness about Prof Kremer as he speaks passionately and windingly about research and his brainchild -National School-Based Deworming. Entering its 10th year, it reaches more than six million children in Kenya each year, reducing worm infection in 16 counties.

Words haemorrhage out of the professor in long sentences with great perspective, impressive intellect, and burning enthusiasm for this deworming project.

The Harvard University graduate is a Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago and the director of the Development Innovation lab.

He is also a 2019 Nobel Prize Laureate, the winner of the 2019 Economics Nobel Prize. His research focuses on finding innovative solutions to address poverty, health, education, agriculture, and safe water. He met with JACKSON BIKO at DoubleTree Hilton on his recent official visit.

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What are you quite bad at?

[Chuckles]. Maybe I should ask you for tips because I’m bad at writing about the things I’m working on. I’m never satisfied with the quality of writing. I often get my co-authors complaining that I take forever to finish a paper. I need to learn how to write more quickly and more effectively. I also tend to procrastinate.

When did you realise that you are gifted intellectually?

When I was a Boy Scout. A Physics professor told me, ‘Come take my university-level course.’ I did that and that’s where I first realised I could take classes that were higher than the grade level that I was in. I took some economics classes as an undergraduate, but I got excited about economics at the graduate level because there was more Math and more theories.

How has Math, Economics and Physics been useful to your personal life?

Perhaps coming to an understanding there is always a new way of thinking about a problem. And if you discover something that you didn’t know before, which is super exciting. You also know you can start with a hypothesis or just a conjecture, try and prove it and in the process, you realise your original conjecture was wrong and you must go back and change.

Most of my research involves trying to get data and understand what’s working and what’s not and have hypotheses for what might be more successful. The flip side is not being able to get anything done or finished when you always try to improve things and make them better.

I think it’s very useful intellectually in realising that you don’t know things but there’s a process by which you can learn things. That combination is powerful.

My father is an architect, so he might use Math directly in designing.

How did you learn about the Nobel Prize, what were you doing?

My wife and I were in England. I was riding my bike to the London School of Economics. I noticed a message from Sweden, but I thought it was spam. I got out of my bike, went into my office to send a message saying, ‘I think you’re a conman.’ (Chuckles).

I go into my office, open my computer to send them the message and then an old friend knocks at the door and says ‘congratulations.’ And I said, ‘for what? (Laughter) Then he told me. Then I went on the web to confirm, and it was true. I called my wife, my children, and my parents.

Did you question it? Did you ask yourself why me? Did you feel that you’re undeserving of it or not?

That’s a great question. I’ll tell you what; I feel like I’ve worked harder afterward. I think the reason is I probably need to prove that I deserved it. To prove to myself and to others that I was the correct decision. (Chuckles). That they were right.

What’s the impact of that; do people view you differently?

Yeah! Completely. It’s a little bit strange. People sometimes take what I say too seriously. I think that’s one good thing because in research we are constantly questioning things.

And obviously, it’s just incredible in terms of the opportunities it has created.

You believe and have faith in science, do you also believe in God?

That’s a great question. Religion has had a big influence on me. I don’t think I would have a fundamentalist literal interpretation of religion. I like Math and Science, but I wanted to work on something that would directly affect people and help improve people’s lives. That impulse comes from my parents and ultimately from religion. I believe in God…but I’m not…I’m not religious, I’m spiritual. I think also the straight values have motivated me very much.

Why do you think your wife agreed to marry you?

[Chuckles] Good question. She’s also into development and economics. She is very motivated by some of the same things that motivate me. To this day, we talk about issues of development frequently. Also, she’s tall, I’m tall. (Chuckles) We’re compatible in many ways. We have two sons, Daniel, 17, and Ben, 21. I’m really glad she agreed to marry me.

What do you find the most challenging in raising your children?

I tend to be a perfectionist and so are they. And it’s bad. When you’re a parent it’s easier to see others and say, ‘you don’t have to be so perfect.’ Now I can see it more clearly in my children. I just want them to be happy and stop beating themselves up to be perfectionists, not to stress out. But I may not be a good example because I stress myself out.

What do you find to be your greatest source of happiness at this stage, 56 years of age?

My family is the top source of happiness.

How do you fill your free time as a professor?

Unfortunately, I don’t have that much free time right now, but I like reading. My mother taught English literature and I liked reading novels. I regret that I haven’t been reading as much as I had earlier. I also like riding a bike and listening to jazz.



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