Judith's Biography

Judith Tendler is a development economist with an institutional bent. Since 1984, she has been Professor of Political Economy in the International Development Group of the Department of Urban Studies & Planning at M.I.T. She has published three books, Good Government in the Tropics, Inside Foreign Aid, and Electric Power in Brazil: Entrepreneurship in the Public Sector, in addition to other articles and writings that can be downloaded here.

Many years before M.I.T., Tendler worked three years as a program economist at the U.S.Agency for International Development (USAID)- the first two years in the Rio de Janeiro Office, and the last year at USAID's Latin America Bureau, carrying out various field evaluations in Latin America. In between the USAID experience and MIT, Tendler carried out various field-evaluation research studies in Bolivia, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, South Africa, Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Curaçao (Netherlands Antilles), and Egypt - in addition to Brazil.

At MIT, starting in 1992 and continuing through 2009, Tendler ran five comparative research projects in Brazil that combined her field research with teaching - funded by different Brazilian and international public agencies. These ventures led to various publications, dissertations, and theses. For this work, MIT awarded her two prizes in different years - the Irwin Sizer prize for "the most significant improvement in education at MIT"; and the Class-of-1960 Award and Chair for "distinguished contributions to the instructional program and superbly innovative and effective work in educating graduate students under field conditions."

In her most recent research project - "The Rule of Law, the Modernization of the State in Brazil: Lessons from Existing Experiences for Policy and Practice" - Tendler chose to investigate various cases of classic conflicts in developing countries between workers and firms (and their associations); between infrastructure development and environmental concerns; and, less noticed, between various subsectors along the supply chain. She and her team of three advanced Brazilian doctoral researchers - Mansueto Almeida, Salo Coslovsky, and Roberto Pires - looked into and across a large number of such cases that were resolved, unusually, positively. Usually, business, labor, and environmentalists complain that one party gains from the enforcement of standards only at the other's loss; similarly, public-sector policy-makers and other actors worry that the increased costs alleged to be caused by enforcement seriously jeopardize economic development. These grim expectations in themselves often contribute to regulatory inaction. This research project, therefore, asked how could regulatory actors and others build at the margin on the positive-sum outcomes they were already generating, by observing the patterns running across them. Papers from this research project-"The Rule of Law, Economic Development, and Modernization of the State in Brazil: Lessons from Existing Experience for Policy and Practice" - can be found here.

Other recent Tendler writings are: "Why are social funds so popular?" "Small firms, the informal sector, and the Devil's Deal," "Why social policy is condemned to a residual category of safety nets and what to do about it," and "Undoing the poverty agenda and putting it back together: economic development, social policy, or what? Monographs now being converted into as articles are: "The Fear of Education," "The Economic Wars Between the States: Lessons from Brazil and the U.S. South," "The Transformation of Local Economies: Lessons from Northeast Brazil," and "Histories of upscaling in various places: surprising paths, surprising lessons."

A list of Tendler's writings can be found here.