• MIT Department of Economics

    Robert M. Townsend, Elizabeth & James Killian Professor of Economics

    A theorist, macroeconomist, and development economist, Townsend analyzes the role and impact of economic organization and financial systems through applied general equilibrium models, contract theory and the use of micro data. He is known for his seminal work on costly state verification, the revelation principle, optimal multi-period contracts, decentralization of economies with private information, models of money with spatially separated agents, forecasting the forecasts of others and insurance and credit in developing countries. He is the author of Financial Structure and Economic Organization (1990),The Medieval Village Economy (1993), Households as Corporate Firms (2010) with Krislert SamphantharakFinancial Systems in Developing Economies (2011), Chronicles from the Field (2013) with Sombat Sakuntasathien and Rob Jordan;and numerous professional articles.

Featured Working Papers

  • "Villages as Small Open Economies."  Archawa Paweenawat and Robert M. Townsend. Working Paper, 2011. ABSTRACT PDF

  • "Economic Development and the Equilibrium Interaction of Financial Frictions." Benjamin Moll, Robert M. Townsend, Victor Zhorin. NBER Working Paper No. 19618, 2014. ABSTRACT PDF

    This paper argues that different micro financial underpinnings have potentially very different implications at both the macro and the micro level on large cross-country income differences. The authors develop a general equilibrium framework that encompasses different regimes of frictions, and compare the implications of two concrete frictions: limited commitment and moral hazard. The work also presents an economy with different frictions in different regions, and argues that such mixture regimes are different from simple convex combinations of the pure moral hazard and pure limited commitment regimes.

Featured Publication

  • "Chronicles from the Field: The Townsend Thai Project." Robert M. Townsend, Sombat Sakunthasathien, and Rob Jordan. Boston, MA: MIT Press, April 2013. LINK

    Running since 1997, the Townsend Thai Project has tracked millions of observations about the economic activities of households and institutions in Thailand. The authors offer an account of the design and implementation of the survey and tell 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. 


  • Consortium on Financial Systems and Poverty

    The Consortium oversees the development of a growing body of research that seeks to put financial services for the poor, with an emphasis on the impact of savings, second generation banking, and policy, on a firm empirical and theoretical foundation and serves as a reliable guide to effective action. It is composed of top-tier researchers across a variety of institutions who work to understand the impact of financial products, the macro and micro policies that are associated with financial access, and technological innovations in financial service delivery.

  • Townsend Thai Project

    The Townsend Thai Project brings together one of the most detailed and longest running panel datasets in the developing world and archived secondary data for researchers at universities around the world.

  • Mapping Financial Institutions in Emerging Markets

    This project utilizes data mining techniques, GIS, and an interactive database to evaluate the impact of technology on retail banking and consumer finance in Thailand. This public database provides access to valuable consumer information and offers visual representation of patterns in economic conditions,commercial and government bank locations,education, labor, and health.

Latest News

How a Health Care Plan Quickly Lowered Infant Mortality in Thailand
MIT News
April 30, 2014

A new paper, "The Great Equalizer: Health Care Access and Infant Mortality in Thailand", finds that improved hospital access lowered the infant death rate among Thailand's poor within a year. In this article, Peter Dizikes of MIT News Office, interviews Nathaniel Hendren and Robert M. Townsend, co-authors with Jonathan Gruber, to to find out more about this dramatic shift.

The Urban/Rural Divide is Less Divided Than You Think
Financial Access Initiative Blog
November 5, 2013

This blog post by Alicia Brindisi discusses Robert M. Townsend's recent paper, "Accounting for the Poor", and explores ideas related to the lifecycle and consumption needs of the urban and rural poor.  While rural poverty is a persistent problem in Thailand and in other developing countries, Brindisi suggests that it should be addressed within the context of urbanization in order to acknowledge the interconnectedness of rural and urban populations.