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February 2, 2018 (links edition #43)

The State of the World’s Cash Report is out. Published by CaLP yesterday morning, it offers a range of interesting estimates on the magnitude, usage, and coordination of cash and vouchers in humanitarian contexts. Among the findings, it is worth noting that in 2016 cash-based responses totaled $2.8 billion, an increase of 40% from 2015. In other words, cash now represents 10.3% of the $27.3 billion humanitarian assistance. I also found particularly interesting that, in a survey among nearly 400 humanitarian practitioners, only 28% believe that “… national/local actors are appropriately involved in the coordination of humanitarian cash transfers” – a central issue in social protection and one that is motivating a stream of research in our group (more in future links). Speaking of humanitarian data, a useful new Humanitarian Data Exchange platform combines 6,464 datasets on a variety of issues (see also a short blog by Telford dispelling 6 myths on humanitarian data).

Back in October, I shared a comprehensive review by Parker and Todd (here) concluding that we don’t know enough about the long-term effects of CCTs, specially on employment. A much-debated NBER paper by Kugler and Rojas begins to break down that glass ceiling: using household surveys between 2003 and 2015 (note the high attrition rate of nearly 80%), they show that children with greater time of exposure to CCTs had significant increases in educational attainment (a finding in line with Stampini et al’s research on Jamaica’s PATH), as well as finding positive impacts on the likelihood and quality of employment (h/t Pablo Acosta, Will Wiseman, Kathy Lindert). (If not subscribed to NBER just send me an email for a PDF).

The hype around the Kugler-Rojas paper is tempered by a more cautious new meta-analysis of CCTs by Garcia and Saavedra (h/t Dave Evans and his awesome education research round-up compilation). Reviewing the impact and cost-effectiveness of 94 studies from 47 programs, the authors find that educational effect size estimates for longstanding interventions are “statistically indistinguishable from those of pilot 1- or 2-year CCT programs”. Surprisingly, they “… do not find evidence consistent with stronger effects for transfers that target mothers”, and that “effect sizes are greater when other schooling conditions, such as grade promotion or test scores, are imposed on beneficiaries, beyond the typical requirements of enrollment and minimum attendance”.

A new paper by Lieber and Lockwood assesses the cash vs in-kind debate in the US, with a large-scale experiment on Medicaid home care services. In particular, they quantify the trade-off posed by in-kind transfers in terms of better targeting vs less preferred by beneficiaries. The results indicate that the targeting benefit exceed the moral hazard costs, and concluded that “… the main alternative – using more cash transfers – appears to be much less effective in this context”. (Also in this case email me for an ungated version).

This I mentioned the US, how may basic income be funded in the States? A new Bill proposal by Reps Van Hollen and Beyer caps fossil fuels, requires energy companies to purchase pollution permits at auction, and returns all the auction revenue in equal amounts to every US resident with a valid social security number. Bonus: watch Guy Standing, Stewart Butterfield and Min Shafik debating universal basic income in Davos. Extra bonus: Deaton’s NTY oped on poverty in the States – that is, 3.2 million live on less than $1.9/day – sparked quite some reactions, including the questioning of his numbers by Kenny and Sandefur.

From US to Africa: the 2nd edition of the Zambia Social Protection Week focused on “Inclusive Sustainable Social Protection: Leaving No One Behind”, with a rich set of 33 presentations available here and examining the links between social protection and agriculture, disability, aging, local multipliers, and more (h/t Luca Pellerano).

From Africa to central Asia: ODI and UNICEF produced an interesting 110-page report and brief on options to enhance targeted social assistance in Kazakhstan. Among the findings, it appears that communication and awareness of programs is limited, with only 24% of survey respondents had heard of targeted social assistance.

Does it pay out to migrate from rural to urban areas? Sandefur compares a new paper by Hicks et al with the classic Gollin et al QJE article: while the latter paper finds that the productivity gap (and hence returns on migration) between agriculture and other sectors is huge (up to 250%), the former claims they are very limited – including 8% in Indonesia and 6% in Kenya. More on urban issues: in Africa, Gutman and Patel warn against the ‘perfect storm’ of rising urban population, relatively low income per capita, and a lack of city infrastructure (see also similar issues raised by Gutman and Tomer on urban accessibility).

Let’s turn to another form of (forced) mobility: do refugees displace local firms? No, according to a new paper by Akgunduz et al. By analyzing whether the Syrian refugee inflows into Turkey affected firm entry and performance, they suggest that hosting refugees is favorable for firms: total firm entry does not seem to be significantly affected, and there is a substantial increase in the number of new foreign-owned firms, compounded by indications of growth in gross profits and net sales

New resources on machine learning: after the meetings each year, the AEA offers two-day continuing education courses on a changing variety of topics. This year, one of the courses was Machine Learning and Econometrics taught by Athey and Imbens. The webcasts and slides from the course can be accessed here (h/t FAI). Bonus: a Quartz piece by Latif Dahir arguing that the future of work in Africa is uncertain despite technology’s promise, or perhaps because of it.

Final fireworks: Shanta’s future development’s column, including some interesting migration, growth and gender reads; and Pedersen reviews Renwick’s new book on the history of the British welfare state, Bread for All: The Origins of the Welfare State (h/t Ruslan Yemtsov). Already in my Amazon cart.

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