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December 15, 2017 (links edition #37)

Can a conditional cash transfer program improve beneficiaries’ self-sufficiency? Yes it can, according to a solid NBER paper. Galama et al examine the Familias en Accion Urbano and found that, 3 years into the program, beneficiary households report greater income, consumption and formal employment participation for both the household head and partner. Household income increased by 10 times the amount of the government transfer, likely because of gains in formal employment. Households also report increased satisfaction with life and greater happiness. These results support the authors’ hypothesis that relatively small transfers, further offset by additional government tax receipt, may generate substantial benefits to poor families at a reduced cost to taxpayers.

A compilation of materials at the intersection of social protection and humanitarian assistance. Do people on the move get the services they need? A new set of studies by GTS surveyed over 4,000 migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers from Austria, Greece, Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey as part of the Mixed Migration Platform. The results suggest that most people lack information about available support and are unable to participate in humanitarian and social protection programs – check out the summary of the findings. IDS has a new note where he argues for more disability-sensitive humanitarian assistance, e.g., 22% of Syrian refugees living in camps in Jordan and Lebanon had an impairment (see also Schjoedt’s five points on disability); Duncan Green reflects on the difference between ‘adaptive’ management and programming in Myanmar; DFID and OPM produced a great animated video on the role of social protection, disaster risk management, and humanitarian assistance – see around min 2:00 why they should all come together (h/t Massimo La Rosa). Bonus: some select materials form the recent Aidexpo event in Brussels can be accessed here.

Another video, this time of Ghana’s president, standing next to Macron, that went viral after calling for ending Africa’s aid dependency.As Asiedu writes, Akufo-Addo’s frankness made the video a hit among African youth. Relatedly, Hemsteede blogs about Lesotho’s Child Grant shift from a donor to a government-led program.

Interesting developments on basic income: the FT is drumming up interest and expectations around ongoing pilot across countries; after the 2016 national referendum turned down a UBI proposal, the idea is now resurfacing at city level, with wealthy Zurich offering 2,200 euro to every dweller (sorry if in Italian, but apparently the news wasn’t picked up widely); a new software calculated that a UBI in Mexico would cost between 7-20% of GDP (the note, this time, is in Spanish) (h/t Robert Palacios).

From income to work: McCord is working on a new public works book – here are the volume’s summary conclusions, with the main point being that public works have increasingly moved from social assistance to graduation functions, but without associated revisions to program conceptualization and design. Facebook groups are becoming the gig economy’s unions, offering an open forum for independent contractors who are often scattered around the globe. BTW, what is the engine driving the global economy? Well…. bonds are a big part of it with their massive $93 trillion market, so take an interactive walk through the economic milestones that have shaped the bond market over the last 70 years (h/t Quartz).

Some human development materials: Brooking’s Ghandi looks at Africa’s significant inequalities in health and education; a new UNSCN paper by Hunter et al asserts that schools offer a unique platform from which to realize multiple benefits for children and their communities; Clarke and Le Masson have a nice ODI paper connecting universal health coverage and resilience; UNHCR produced a review of the use of cash assistance in 45 cash-related education programs in 21 operations, including two case studies on Kenya and Turkey; discussions on nutrition-sensitive social protection often raise the option of levying taxes on high-sugar products a la Mexico, but a NYT story from Colombia casts an intimidating light on that issue.

New evidence on identification, including Aadhaar’s roll-out in Rajasthan: according to Gelb et al, such state is approaching 100% financial inclusion (all have at least one bank account), and 66% of female heads of family reported not having had a bank account prior to registration. Yet ,ales usually control the mobile phones – in only 20% of households women read SMS or make phone calls. Digital reforms have also often improved perceived service quality (of PDS, pensions and energy subsidies). At the same time, technological infrastructure creates some bottlenecks: while 71% of PDS recipients can generally authenticate themselves in one or two attempts, it still takes three to four attempts to authenticate for 25% of respondents, and 4 percent say that they are unable to do so in a timely manner or at all.

New entries on poverty policy and measurement. Last week we launched our food subsidy book in Egypt, and many were surprised to learn that every other American child lives in a family that, at some point in life, will access SNAP food stamps: with poverty affecting 41 million people, the United Nations have now appointed a special rapporteur (Philip Alston) investigating poverty in the United States. A recent AER article by Robert Allen, “Absolute Poverty: When Necessity Displaces Desire”, proposed a method of measuring global poverty based on Linear Programming (setting a lower-cost diet for attaining stipulated nutrients). The method wasn’t really hailed by Ravallion, as detailed is his “An interesting step backwards” rebut paper.

Vietnam is coming up in a couple of pieces: in a JDS article, Do et al demonstrate the importance of livestock for managing rural shocks among the poor; in the other note, Dell et al. argue that major economic variances across present day Vietnam can be traced back to historical governance differences, highlighting the role of civil society.

From a couple to another, this time on urban issues: a case study by Varella et al lays out Brazil’s experience with urban productive inclusion through microcredit, while Siba and Sow discuss how to fund African cities through land value capture (i.e., financing urbanization through the recovery of profit generated by the increasing value of property from public investment).

Final bonus: a brewing nerd-war between Krugman and Harvard’s Menkiw recently escalated, with Waldmann intervening to forge peace.

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