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SP Links November 23 – public works save lives, cash with soft conditions reduce violence, Malawi’s social registry, cash transfers in East and West Africa…

Social assistance can be life-saving. In India, there is ample research showing the role of NREGA in insuring against rainfall shocks. But new findings shed light on reducing female child mortality: a working paper by Merfeld and Saha found that the program could have saved around 550 girls per district per year if implemented in the years 2001 to 2005.

A particular form of social assistance can also reduce intra-household violence, which is often the by-product of poverty-induced stress: in Bangladesh, cash and food transfers can help, but only when combined with accompanying activities to inform and engage beneficiaries violence drops significantly. By how much? Nearly 26% after 10 months from program completion, according to a new RES article by Roy et al.

From Asia to Africa: a new discussion paper by Lindert et al takes us on Malawi’s rich journey in developing a unified beneficiary registry. Planned to expand coverage from the current 20 to 70% of the population by 2020, such process would put the UBR on a par with Colombia’s SISBEN (now at 73%) and potentially connect 9 programs. The paper describes in detail the current state of operations, and locates it within the broader delivery chain – a herculean effort!

Turning to Eastern Africa, the IFRC piloted the use of blockchain technology in distributing cash to 2,000 beneficiaries in Isiolo county, Kenya – here is the evaluation (h/t David Peppiat).

Let’s move to West Africa: a CaLP report by Cissokho examines a range of cash transfer programs in Senegal, and their effectiveness in responding to food crises (h/t Tegan Rogers). Appling the OPM framework of humanitarian adaptation (p.18), the paper discusses the the National Solidarity Fund, PNBSF, WFP and PUSA programs, with table 3 (p.26) laying out their (very different) features in amount, duration and frequency of distribution. Among the lessons, the paper underscores the importance of “… leadership at government level in the transition to government-led responses to the needs of vulnerable communities, with gradual alignment by non-governmental actors”. (French version is available here).

A quick stop in the Middle-East: the full report by Bilo and Machado on MENA’s child-sensitive social protection legislation is out

Jumping to the US, would the country be better off with an expanded EITC or a full-fledged UBI? A new working paper by Kasy makes the case for the latter on efficiency, equity and political grounds. In a new NBER paper, Börsch-Supan and Coile review the evolution in reforms of social security, disability, and other public programs available to older US workers since the 1980s.

From investing in seniors to early childhood interventions: a Nature article by Luo et al show that 78 participants who received, 4 decades earlier, high-quality early childhood programs are more likely to reject “unequal division of money” (even at their own cost) and better plan for the future (h/t Michael Weber). The evaluation of the FAMI program in Colombia by Attanasio et al found significant impacts on child cognition, language and motor development, stunting reduction (by 5.8 percentage points), and improvement in the quality of the home environment (an indicator of parental investments in their children). Finally, Akresh et al show that kids beneficiating from the construction of new schools in Indonesia in the 1970s are more likely to be formal workers, work outside agriculture, and migrate. Also, households with parents exposed to the program have improved living standards and pay more government taxes.

“Of course inequality is detrimental for economic growth”: well, wait a second… a RIW article by Ferreira et al explores whether inequality of opportunity, driven by circumstances at birth, has a negative effect on subsequent growth. Using income/expenditures as well as demographic/health surveys they found that while both total income inequality and inequality of opportunity are negatively associated with growth, estimates are insignificant. Bottom line: the notion that inequality of opportunity is bad for growth is yet to be proven.

From micro data to two interesting macro-papers – one by Lederman et al on macroeconomics in times of conflict, and another by Rossi reviewing the macro evidence on human capital.

Let’s end with materials of different kind: a thoughtful FT piece on making Beirut’s refugee camps safer; an IDS podcast on the politics of food riots with Hossain and Scott-Villiers; and here is the next book on my reading list, ‘Radical Help’, the new volume by Hilary Cottam on rethinking the welfare state (h/t Paul Bance).

Happy Thanksgiving!

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