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Month: March 2018

March 30, 2018 (links edition #50)

A great interview with Jean Dreze by Ashok Kotwal (h/t Samik Adhikari). Among the many insights, Dreze is cautious about switches from in-kind to cash due to inflation risks and limited trust in government to manage them. When asked how societies should look like, he replied that “… it is easier and more productive is to think about the principles of a good society, and then work for these principles whenever possibilities arise”. Also, he more controversially wondered if “… welfare schemes were used to promote Aadhaar rather than the other way round”. Speaking of trust in governments, Alkon and Urpelainen examine the role of such trust in explaining support for reforming India’s energy subsidies (h/t Shanta Devarajan). They show that farmers who trust the government are more willing to replace diesel subsidies and electricity subsidies with policies that enable farmers to use reliable electricity for irrigation and pay for it. In other words, even those with vested interests are willing to support better policies when they trust the government.

From preferences of specific groups to public opinions in general. Bucelli and Mager have an interesting blog on public perceptions of inequality. By unpacking the concept in the UK, Italy, Germany, Spain and South Africa, they show that tolerance of inequality, attitudes towards inequality-reducing policies, and beliefs and values vary between and within countries. For example, people may tolerate different levels of inequality because of their different beliefs about its causes – e.g., the UK stood out as a country where laziness and lack of will is the most popular explanation of disadvantage. In South Africa ‘lack of luck’ is the most prevalent explanation for disadvantage, while many Germans point to a strong element of injustice in society.

A new IFS working paper by Harris et al. simulated the potential of a VAT-financed UBI in four African countries (h/t Gabriela Inchauste). The paper found that broadening the VAT base (eliminating most exemptions and tax reductions) and using the revenue to fund a UBI would be a way more efficient of achieving redistribution than a VAT. A UBI would reduce extreme poverty and inequality – even if only 75% of the additional revenue was used for this purpose. When it comes to political matters, a new paper by Gourevitch and Stanczyk claims that proponents of UBI got it all wrong (h/t Jurgen De Wispelaere). It’s not that a UBI would empower workers (“the power of saying no”): workers would first need to get organized as influential political agents and then, as a consequence, they may be to lobby for a UBI. Build such political constituency in the changing world of work is, they argue, a daunting challenge. A quick peek at the basic income vs public works debate at national and city-level in Germany, with the Berlin ‘solidarity basic income’ actually being a service-oriented public works (h/t Christian Bodewig). Bonus: Acosta and Monsalve evaluate the impact of El Salvador’s PATI public works programs. They find that a significant negative impact of the program on most types of crimes in the municipalities with the intervention, with positive spillover effects holding within a radius of 50 kilometers.

From public works to productive inclusion. To keep up with graduation materials shared over the last weeks (Banerjee et al’s new paper, Pritchett’s critique [see new ESID blog version], Blattman, etc.), de Montesquiou et al published the second edition of graduation technical guidelines – very user-friendly and rich of tips, steps, illustrations, and materials. BTW, in the context of graduation-oriented cash transfers, Ozler calls for being equally open to findings that support our priors and those that don’t.

Let’s move to Africa. In Burundi, a blog by Brown shows that stunting among food assistance recipients was 7.4 percentage points lower than in the control arm. In a new working paper, Hill and Tsehaye find that over the last decade Ethiopia’s reductions in poverty were largest in places where agricultural output growth has been higher, safety nets (PNSP) have been introduced, and improvements in market access have been made. In particular, agricultural output growth caused reductions in poverty of 2.2 percent per year on average post-2005, and 0.1 percent per year prior to 2005. Chirchir’s post on Kenya’s social pensions underscores that technology needs leadership that is techno-savvy, building the capacity of staff, well-defined program operational processes, thoroughly tested and tailor-made application software, and a robust and scalable hardware infrastructure. Bonus: in three weeks, ISSA will host a conference on technology is social protection in Morocco.

From Africa to cyclones in Asia. A DPC paper (and blog) by Mansur et al assesses the impact of cash transfers in response to Fiji’s 2016 cyclone Winston (h/t Oleksiy Ivaschenko). One of the things they nicely document is the blurring of poor and near-poor households, and the sequence of response — including how cash complemented front-line humanitarian assistance at the early stages of the disaster. In another paper, Christian et al looked at microcredit (self-help groups) in response to the 2013 cyclone Phailin in Odisha, India. The showed that households significantly reduced consumption, but that this was particularly true for women. While underscoring that microcredit is not a substitute to emergency response, they point at how the government leveraged the program’s infrastructure to distribute disaster assistance.

More on crises: in a new NBER paper, Bosetti et al examine the thorny issue of climate migrants and local conflicts. They find that in countries where emigration is due to climate change, mobility functions as “escape valve” for local tensions. In other words, they find no evidence that climate-induced migration increased the probability of conflict in receiving countries. A new report by Mercy Corps examines how Syrians have adapted their livelihoods through seven years of conflict (h/t Paul Bance). Among a range of recommendations, they call for humanitarian aid to more carefully strengthen social networks and relax some of the strict eligibility rules among similarly-vulnerable community members.