Robert M. Townsend

Robert M. Townsend is Elizabeth & James Killian Professor of Economics at MIT and the coauthor of Chronicles from the Field: The Townsend Thai Project (MIT Press).

  • Distributed Ledgers

    Distributed Ledgers

    Design and Regulation of Financial Infrastructure and Payment Systems

    Robert M. Townsend

    An economic analysis of what distributed ledgers can do, examining key components and discussing applications in both developed and emerging market economies.

    The open access edition of this book was made possible by generous funding from Arcadia – a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin.

    Distributed ledger technology (DLT) has the potential to transform economic organization and financial structures. In this book, Robert Townsend steps back from the hype and controversy surrounding DLT (and the related, but not synonymous, innovations of blockchain and Bitcoin) to offer an economic analysis of what distributed ledgers can do and a blueprint for the optimal design and regulation of financial systems. Townsend examines the key components of distributed ledgers, discussing, evaluating, and illustrating each in the context of historical and contemporary economies, reviewing featured applications in both developed economies and emerging-market countries, and indicating where future innovations can have large impact.

    Throughout, Townsend emphasizes the general equilibrium impact of DLT innovations, the welfare gains from these innovations, and related regulatory innovations. He analyzes four crucial components of distributed ledgers—ledgers as accounts, e-messages and e-value transfers, cryptography, and contracts—assessing each in terms of both economics and computer science, and forges some middle ground. Relatedly, Townsend highlights hybrid systems in which some of these components allow useful innovation while legacy or alternative pieces deal with the problem of scale. The specific applications he analyzes include an intelligent financial automated system that provides financial services to unbanked and under-banked populations, and cross-border payments systems, including financial systems that can integrate credit and insurance with clearing and settlement. Finally, Townsend considers cryptocurrencies, discussing the role and value of tokens in economies with distributed ledger systems.

    • Paperback $35.00
  • Chronicles from the Field

    Chronicles from the Field

    The Townsend Thai Project

    Robert M. Townsend, Sombat Sakunthasathien, and Rob Jordan

    Lessons learned in the process of designing and implementing one of the longest-running panel data surveys in development economics.

    Running since 1997 and continuing today, the Townsend Thai Project has tracked millions of observations about the economic activities of households and institutions in rural and urban Thailand. The project represents one of the most extensive datasets in the developing world. Chronicles from the Field offers an account of the design and implementation of this unique panel data survey. It tells the story not only of the origins and operations of the project but also of the challenges and rewards that come from a search to understand the process of a country's economic development.

    The book explains the technical details of data collection and survey instruments but emphasizes the human side of the project, describing the culture shock felt by city-dwelling survey enumerators in rural villages, the “surprising, eye-opening, and inspiring” responses to survey questions, and the never-ending resourcefulness of the survey team. The text is supplemented by an epilogue on research findings and policy recommendations and an appendix that contains a list and abstracts of published and working papers, organized by topic, using data from the project.

    Social and economic policies are too often skewed by political considerations. The Townsend Thai Project offers another basis for policy: accurate measurement based on thoroughly collected data. From this, a clear template emerges for understanding poverty and alleviating it.

    • Hardcover $37.00