Dignity in Government

One of the exciting research streams I’m working on is around the theme of dignity. As human beings, we have it. It’s one of those things we all agree on, and yet we often don’t affirm (or even do the opposite of affirming) someone’s dignity. Why is that? And what repercussions might that have?

At first, I was a little hesitant to venture into this area. While I like working in poverty alleviation, I’m always a bit mindful of coming off as too virtuous (you already are, Neela, my friends and family would say, tired of my endless rants and lectures). Talking about dignity seemed a bit high-minded and self-indulgent. But then interesting questions popped up: when we take people’s opinions in surveys or ask them about their lives and then never go back and tell them why we collected this information, are we dis-respecting them? Is just giving people cash to make their own choices more respectful and mindful of their dignity than all the elaborate programs we concoct to improve health, nutrition, sanitation, livelihoods and whatnot? What is informed consent anyway when we run our interesting behavioral science experiments?

I don’t know all the answers – my collaborators have done much more work on this. But it has been fascinating to pin down a concept and make it less fuzzy and more actionable. And here’s the first of our pieces.

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