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September 1, 2017 (links edition #24)

A handy debriefing by UNICEF summarizes the latest developments on cash transfers in Africa, particularly in follow-up to the Transfer Project: lots of juicy stuff – e.g., on cash plus, livelihood dynamics, urban PMTs, etc. – inclusive of links to materials. (The wider Transfer Project book, available here, was shared some links editions ago).

A fascinating paper by Hahn, Katz, and Isaacs from the Urban Institute explores beneficiaries’ perspectives on the implementation process of SNAP, the large-scale food vouchers scheme in the US (i.e., reaching 1 out of 7 Americans). Plenty of interesting findings, and when asked how to improve the system, beneficiaries pointed to three core areas: faster benefit receipt, better interactions with staff, and clearer information. I was also intrigued by some considerations on e-applications: the fact that they are easier to submit (than face-to-face in office) seems to lead more ineligible people to apply, which means more back-end work for program administrators in curbing excess demand.

Two articles in medical journals estimated the impact of cash transfers on health and nutrition in Indonesia (courtesy of Pablo Acosta): one by Kusuma et al finds that the national CCT (PKH) and UCT (Generasi) increased the consumption of milk and fish by up to 19% and 14%, respectively. Also, PKH reduced the probability of severe wasting by 41%, and Generasi dropped the likelihood of being severely underweight by 47%. The other paper, produced by the same authors, assessed those programs in relation to the determinants of maternal mortality. It showed that Generasi improved, inter alia, maternal health knowledge, access to health services, and nutritional intake. As for PKH, its strongest effects seem concentrated on the utilization of health services. Bonus on nutrition: in a new IFPRI working paper, Thapa et al found that in Nepal dietary changes (e.g., number of food groups consumed, monthly food expenditure, etc.) explain about 71 percent of the improvement in stunting between 1995 and 2011.

From nutrition to education: a review of school meal programs in 16 LAC countries found that about 85 million schoolchildren in the region receive daily school meals, with an annual investment of approximately USD 4.3 billion. The analysis recommends 6 strategic areas of improvement, one of which is the links to social protection systems. In a new paper on Bolivia, Canavire-Bacarreza et show that unconditional cash transfers to the elders have positive and significant effects on the educational expenditures for children (the increase of such spending is in the order of 73%). It also finds stronger effects among indigenous populations and women. Talking of gender: a new paper by the ILO’s Orozco and Gammage found that Mexico’s Prospera enhanced women agency and autonomy as part of intra-household bargaining processes.

What works best, cash transfers or insurance? Jensen et al explore the question in Northern Kenya where cash transfers (HSNP) and livestock insurance (IBLI) were simultaneously provided to the same population: they found that HSNP improved child health, as measured by mid-upper arm circumference, and helped households maintain their mobility-dependent livestock production strategies. Households with IBLI coverage made productivity increasing investments, reduced distress sales of livestock during droughts, and saw a marked increase in income per adult equivalent. Yet insurance had higher marginal costs. In another paper, the same authors argued that basis risk is a key factors affecting low uptake of ILBI.

A couple of materials on universal basic income. The first simulates the macroeconomic effects of a UBI in the US: in a new Roosevelt Institute working paper, Nikiforos, Steinbaum and Zezza estimated the impact of three unconditional cash transfer programs over 8 years, including two UBI variants ($1,000 and $500 a month to all adults) and a $250 a month child allowance. What did they find? First, all three designs would grow, over 8 years, the economy between 0.79 and 12% of GDP; second, there seem to be little effects on the economy when programs are funded by taxing the rich. When distributional effects are allowed, the economy grows even in the tax-financed scenarios. In another short blog post, Peterman and Daidone suggest that a lot is already known about the micro effects of unconditional cash, including drawing from recent evidence in Africa – hence, they argue, prospective UBI research ‘should not reinvent the wheel’.

More on Africa: Agricultural Economics has a forthcoming special issue devoted to structural transformation in the region. The framing article by Barrett, Christian and Shiferaw discusses a shrinking size of farms (rural population growth has outpaced rural-to-urban migration), an expanded non-farm entrepreneurship, and the information asymmetries, high transactions costs and uninsured risk exposure that often impede market access for smallholder farmers.

A couple of papers on public works: based on data from the Bangladesh’s flagship ‘Employment Generation Programme for the Poorest’, Sharif and Ruthbah estimate that access to local politicians is a significant determinant of program participation, including an increase in the relative probability of participation by 110%. The JDE version of the Malawi paper by Beegle, Galasso and Golberg is now available: the authors find no effects of the MASAF public works program on food security, and actually suggest negative spillovers to untreated households.

During the summer, Hagen-Zanker et al at ODI released an interesting global review on social protection and migration. I was surprised about the findings, with 55% of migrants being entitled to access social protection benefits (sounds high, perhaps?). Also, I liked the typology of constraints to portability, including totalization, limited exportability, partial portability, and transfer costs.

Some jobs materials. An IZA paper by Meekes and Hassink examines the impact of job displacement on workers’ commuting distance and probability of moving to a different home. The results show, for instance, a loss in hourly wages of about 6% and an increase in commuting distance of about 3 kilometers. In a short piece, Devadiga makes a point similar to Pritchett’s, namely that some of the world’s scarcest resources – entrepreneurs and scientists – are working to economize the most abundant resources, namely low skilled labor. He argues that governments should recalibrate the way in which such entrepreneurial and scientific talent is used.

Two new measurement materials: Martirosova et al present a measure of multidimensional poverty for Armenia, showing that almost 1.2 million people experience deprivations in the labor dimension—the biggest contributor to poverty in the country. In his dynamic poverty decomposition analysis for the Philippines, Fujii suggests that the Mindanao region would need growth-enhancing policies, whereas Eastern Visayas should enhance income distribution. By the way, Barrett, Carter and Chavas have a new quantitative paper on the economics of asset accumulation and poverty traps, with an interesting discussion, among others, on targeting implications (“… it is not enough to know that someone is poor. We need to know why they are poor in order to target effective interventions”).

Finally, on August 24tt a landmark ruling by the Indian Supreme Court affirmed a universal right to privacy. In a blog post, CGD’s Mukherjee argues that such development gives Aadhaar a chance to also be a leader in individual privacy and data protection issues.

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