• Robert Townsend, the Elizabeth and James Killian Professor of Economics at MIT.

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Economist Robert Townsend wins Frisch Medal

Prestigious prize granted for research on Thailand’s villages.

MIT economist Robert M. Townsend has been awarded the prestigious Frisch Medal by the Econometric Society for his recent research on the village economies of Thailand.

The Frisch Medal is given every two years for an outstanding research paper published within the last five years in Econometrica, one of the leading journals in economics. Townsend, the Elizabeth and James Killian Professor of Economics at MIT, won the award along with Joseph Kaboski, an economist at the University of Notre Dame, for a 2011 paper, “A Structural Evaluation of a Large-Scale Quasi-Experimental Microfinance Initiative.”

In that paper, Townsend and Kaboski evaluated the effects of Thailand’s Million Baht Village Fund, a program intended to provide capital for small business investment.

In granting the award, the Econometric Society, founded in the United States in 1930, stated, “The paper is noteworthy for its combination of rigorous theory and careful econometrics to produce important insights into a major development policy.”

The Frisch Medal has been awarded since 1978. Townsend also won in 1998, for a research paper on the use of insurance in poor villages in India. He is the first two-time winner of the medal.

“I was thunderstruck when I heard, almost speechless,” Townsend told MIT News by email, in response to the award. “It is such an extraordinary honor. I am absolutely humbled by this recognition, not only to have won twice, but to have won with one of my former students, Joe Kaboski. The paper that they recognized is one of the first attempts at modeling and measuring the impact of large-scale microfinance programs, using both theory and data. It represents what I think is an important direction for assessing the impact of development initiatives, so it’s especially encouraging that the selection committee took note.”

Other current MIT faculty who have won the Frisch Medal include Jerry Hausman, in 1980, and Ricardo Caballero, in 2002.

Topics: Awards, honors and fellowships, Development, Economics, Faculty, International development, Research

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