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January 5, 2018 (links edition #39)

Can conditional cash transfers enhance nutrition in South Asia? A new article in a medical journal by Raghunathan et al evaluates the effectiveness of Odisha’s Mamata CCT scheme in India. Results show that receipt of CCT payments is associated with a 5 percentage point (pp) increase in the likelihood of receiving antenatal services, a 10 pp increase in the probability of receiving iron-folic acid tablets, and a decline of 0.84 on the Household Food Insecurity Access Scale. Other new resources on cash transfers: a paper by Care identifies lessons for community-based targeting from a program providing unconditional cash to 73,000 households in Zimbabwe; the EU has an interesting article on cash for refugees in Turkey (totaling 3 million people, 90% of whom live in urban areas), with a variety of video interviews to donors and practitioners enclosed.

More on India’s subsidies. In a new CGD paper, Middal et al identify lessons from India’s successful LPG cooking gas subsidy reform. Also known as PaHaL , the scheme transfers cash subsidies directly to the bank accounts of its 177 million (!) beneficiaries, and in 4 years it transferred about $10 billion in public subsidies to such consumers. In doing so, PaHaL increased efficiency and reduced leakages compared to the previous in-kind subsidy regime, resulting in significant fiscal savings for the government at fraction of the cost of the program. Among the ingredients for success were a robust review and pruning of the subsidy beneficiary lists, and the removal of a dual pricing regime. In terms of food subsidies, Kumar and Bathla have a piece on the success of the PDS in Odisha, were leakages dropped from 73.4% in 2004-05 to 11.4% in 2011-12 – largely possible thanks to a range of accountability and business process innovations.

From Asia to Africa: an ODI report, McCullough and Saed examine the relationship between formal and informal spheres of governance in Somalia, where the formal state has been absent for a long time and powerful non-state actors who play roles in customary and informal governance systems. Siba and Tekle have a new 80-page Brookings report on food and nutrition security in Ethiopia, with ample reference to and recommendations for safety nets (p.60) and humanitarian assistance (p.61). In a recent working paper, Bridges and Woolcock apply the problem-driven iterative adaptation (PDIA) methodology to Malawi. They present a retrospective analysis of previous institutional reform projects and find a plethora of interventions that, they argue, by virtue of appearing to be in conformity with “best practices” elsewhere are deemed to be successful, yet fail to fix underlying problems. Bonus: in a short piece, Salomon claims that there is much more data out in LICs than often assumed, but it is hard to access and a hot political issue.

Some great materials on inequality. Top brass academics from Berkeley and the Paris School of Economics (i.e., Alvaredo, Chancel, Piketty, Saez, and Zucman) launched a World Inequality Report: in a CGD blog, Sandefur reflects on its data and asks whether Milanovic’s iconic elephant is ‘flattening’ – that is, the WIR shows slower gains for much of the globe, and even more concentration of economic growth in the top 1%. In a piece for Project Syndicate, Deaton thinks we’re looking at inequality all wrong: inequality isn’t the cause of social and political patterns, but a symptom of processes—some good, some bad—that drive the global economy. So we should actually sort which types of inequality are fair, and which aren’t.

In a new IZA paper, Caliendo et al investigate the impact of Germany’s mobility assistance programs (MAPs) on the job search behavior of unemployed workers and how this affects their subsequent labor market outcomes. The increase in distant job search effort due to MAPs leads to a 16 percentage points (pp) higher probability of being regularly employed 12 months after entry into unemployment. Distant job seekers also realize significantly higher hourly earnings in the following job compared to local job seekers (15 pp), but they work fewer hours per week, resulting in an overall zero effect on monthly earnings.

Alcott et al have a somewhat controversial NBER paper on the causes of “nutritional inequality” in the U.S., i.e., why the wealthy tend to eat more healthfully than the poor. Using a structural demand model, they assert that only 9% of the difference is explained by ‘food deserts’ (unavailability of food on local markets), while the remaining 91% is driven by differences in demand (related to education, nutrition knowledge, and regional preferences). More on the US: in the last links edition I mentioned that the UN had sent an envoy, Alston, to examine poverty in America: in a recent statement and in an interview, Alston shared some of his grim conclusions, among which he underscored how stereotyping the poor leads to dire implications for anti-poverty programs. “So the rich are industrious, entrepreneurial, patriotic and the drivers of economic success. The poor, on the other hand, are wasters, losers and scammers”. As a result, he says, many people believe that “money spent on welfare is money down the drain. Money devoted to the rich is a sound investment”.

Finally, the new year typically sparks reflections on the past and spurs future (often exotic) predictions – for an assortment, check out Brookings’ top 10 figures of 2017 (see Africa’s urban population surpassing LAC’s in 2025), the Bank’s top 12 charts of the year (see reference to resilience), Irin’s 10 most popular stories (see new cash transfers funding model in Lebanon, for which I shared a process review by ODI last time) (h/t Paul Bance), and NPR’s 9 predictions for 2018 (see one on UBI)

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