Michael Clemens made a really great analogy on the CGD wonkcast between research on migration and research on the entry of women into the labor force:
Suppose that I was a labor economist studying the entry of women into the labor force, and most of the papers I wrote were trying to document is this a good thing.
Well, first of all, are they giving enough money to their husbands? What are their husbands really doing with it? Are they buying alcohol or not?
And second, what about the loss to their kids, and the terrible effects that fewer of them are being teachers and nurses any more. What’s happening to the kids in the schoolroom?
All concerns that are not crazy, that could be thought of as legitimate. But if there is very little research on the gains to women, the fact that women are now investment bankers and presidents, things that weren’t thinkable before they entered the labor force. If we really weren’t studying those things at all, or if they were thought to be uninteresting, what would that say about our underlying conception of the world?
The analogy to development is that I really think people in development are much too focused on developing countries rather than developing people.