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October 27, 2017 (links edition #31)

An extensive guidance note by Barca, published by DFAT, unbundles ‘social’ and ‘integrated beneficiary’ registries (nicely complementing previous work on the matter by Leite et al). Drawing from lit reviews and five case studies (Turkey, Indonesia, Chile, Brazil and Kenya), the paper examines the comparative roles of those registries on several integration functions, such as providing information of beneficiaries across programs, offering integrated processes for eligibility determination across programs, integrating operations and services across existing programs, and connecting policy across the social protection sector. Among the findings, she highlights the key role of political and institutional arrangements rather than just technical ‘fixes’. See here for downloading specific sections and case studies.

More materials on data collection and management: in a succinct article, Adegoke points out the challenges for development from Africa’s different statistical laws, regulations, and standards in data collection. In a similar vein, Chirchir makes the case that biometric data shouldn’t be collected by individual social protection programmes, but rather be obtained through collaborations with national ID authorities and databases. Bonus on data: MDRC’s Schaberg and Hendra used Big Data to understand borrowers of subprime loans, and discuss how this revealed clusters of borrowers who differed greatly in the kinds of loans and lenders they used, and in their loan outcomes. Lots of potential for applications to development quandaries.

In a new WD article, Hidrobo et al. conducted a meta-analysis of the impact of social protection programs on food security. They found that the average program among the 58 in the sample increases the value of food expenditures by 13% and caloric acquisition by 8%. They also show that initial conditions matter: for caloric intake, for example, the effect size decreases by approximately 1.2% with every increase in 100 kcals – that is, there is higher impact among people with lower calories at baseline.

Lentz et al. have an explosive new AEI paper on global food aid. They show that while the US is the world’s largest food aid donor (providing more than 40% of the global food aid), only up to 45% of such assistance can be ‘untied’ from domestic sourcing requirements (that is: it has to be procured in the US and shipped overseas largely by US cargoes). If those cargo requirements alone were eliminated and contracts for shipping were awarded on a competitive basis, US food aid programs could feed an additional 1.8 million hungry people. The $350–$400 million per year absorbed by such requirements costs at least 3 million child life years annually. Given global life expectancy at birth of roughly 70 years, some 40–45,000 children’s lives are at risk every year because of those policies. Put it differently: every tax dollar spent on US food aid yields only 35–40 cents in food commodities delivered to those in need. By way of comparison, Canada’s  more extensive use of cash-based interventions deliver almost 70 cents worth of food from every dollar spent.

More on health, education and nutrition: Ganesh and colleagues from the Urban Institute showed that in the US, low-income households with rental assistance have higher exposure to certain indoor asthma triggers—smoke and mold—than other low-income renters and are more likely to have at least one child with asthma in the household. A killer-fact from The Economist: in 7 years, the number of young people in middle and low-income countries who are obese will overtake the number who are underweight. In a Brookings blog, Kharas and McArthur note that the fact that food insecurity is on the rise it’s not about lack of strategies, but rather about not implementing them. In Zimbabwe, a JDS article by Makate and Makate shows that 1 additional year of schooling among girls has significant impacts on their future child dietary diversity.

Let’s move to resilience and fragility. ODI’s latest edition of the Resilience Scan is just out summarizing publications in the field of resilience during the second quarter of 2017. Curated by Kirbyshire et al, this edition includes the 25 most-shared blogs between April and June 2017, 31 papers classified as grey literature, and 32 academic articles (see references list on p.48-51). A juicy OECD working paper reviews the evidence from various evaluations and draws lessons for refugees programs. The paper, which was produced by the DAC Temporary Working Group on Refugees and Migration, is nicely structured: each core theme – like bridging the gap between humanitarian and development programming; efforts to strengthen international response to protracted crises; lessons on whole-of-government approaches in refugee contexts; learning from work in urban settings; improving access to employment and quality education; new financing mechanisms for refugee crises in middle income countries; and lessons on financing in response to the Syria crisis – is backed up by a summary of lessons and key messages. I found lots of handy and insightful examples: for example, the NRC set up a programme providing cash for property owners to bring their buildings up to minimum standards, and matched the improved accommodation to vulnerable families with 12-month leases; also, there is critical assessment of Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (with humanitarian assistance continuing to focus largely on refugee populations while development activities are predominantly being targeted at local communities), with lots of other illustrations throughout the report.

Toward universal basic income in practice, with Macau and Taiwan unveiling their schemes. In the former, its 650,000 inhabitants have just received a permanent dividend a la Alaska – not from oil, but linked to casinos profits. Residents and non-permanent residents received $1,200 and $670, respectively. Taiwan, instead, is at a planning stage, with a proposed monthly transfer of $330 per adult and $165 per child with a net cost of 3.2% of GDP. From the emerging details, such program seems to me closer to a negative income tax than a UBI. From practice to theory: on Foreign Affairs, Cooper has a short book review of two ‘classics’ in the UBI literature, namely ‘Basic Income: a radical proposal for a free society and a sane economy’ by Van Parijs and Vanderborght, and ‘Basic Income: a guide for the open-minded’ by Standing (courtesy of Paul Bance). Cooper generally praised them, but notes that neither discusses the potential impacts on fertility rates.

In a short new piece, Branko Milanovic summarizes the evidence on global inequality. He progressively runs inequality (Gini) trends under four scenarios, namely with unweighted and weighted population data, by accounting for within-country inequality, and, because household surveys tend to underestimate top incomes, with adjustments for that too. Bottom line? Movements in global inequality reflect two forces: a big one of Asia’s convergence that brings mean incomes of China, India, Vietnam, Indonesia etc. closer to the rich world, and a smaller, but important, force of within-national widening of inequalities. On balance, global inequality is down compared to the 1980s by around 3.5 Gini points. Can the tide be turned? It is unlikely, because the strength of Asian convergence is so big, and affects so many people (almost 3 billion), that even very strong increase in within-national inequalities cannot fully offset this gain.

From inequality to poverty measurement. Using data from Serbia, Boznic et al suggest that poverty monitoring via telephone surveys might be a promising option, including because of statistically insignificant difference between face-to-face and phone-based reporting. Ferreira and Sanchez blogged about the Bank’s poverty monitoring against multiple poverty lines – a step that gained Pritchett’s support. Lant also has a new essay warning about the perils of attribution – his point is that development is fundamentally a process of national social transformation, and it is hard to rigorously demonstrate exactly which actions best promote it – and even harder to attribute development to specific actors.

A couple of assorted new entries: Kharas and Rogerson produced a flagship ODI report on global development trends and challenges. Among others, they offer a fascinating discussion on fragility, private sector involvement, and China’s ‘big push’ on development. In a new APSR article, Williams analyzed 14,000 small development projects in Ghana and estimated that one-third of them are never completed, consuming nearly one-fifth of all local government investment. Why? Mainly because politicians didn’t meet their commitments.

Finally, last week I shared a couple of pieces (by Rodrik and CGD) showing that Africa is to some extent transforming without the intermediate manufacturing step. A related paper by Gollin et al now found that among 20 African countries, there is no major wage gap between urban and rural areas; yet cities tend to offer, on average, a better bundle of consumption and amenities than rural areas. BTW, since I mentioned spatial proximity, Oxfam is relocating its HQ to Nairobi to be physically closer to its operations.

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