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May 4, 2018 (links edition #55)

A new exploration of an old question – if poverty is the objective, is it better to provide people with a guaranteed job or guaranteed income? Ravallion has a CGD paper on the quandary. Based on India’s NREGA program, he shows that decentralized implementation of the right-to-work poses serious challenges in poor places. Guaranteed income also has pros and cons: he argues that methods for finely targeting may miss many poor people, and possibly discourage those reached from earning extra income. Yet, the paper points out that it cannot be presumed that switching to a universal basic income would reduce poverty more than workfare or finely-targeted transfers: “… the final outcome for poverty will of course depend on many factors, including the information available for identifying poor people and the feasible means of financing, including the scope for identifying and taxing rich people. (…) [It] is very hard to come out unconditionally on either side”.

Since I mentioned universalism, this week’s lead story of The Economist is on universal health insurance. Among the many aspects discussed, the article looks at pathways to get there. Options include start by covering a small group of workers in depth and work outward from there; alternatively, countries cover more people but start with a limited range of benefits. The latter, which is somewhat the trajectory of Mexico and Rwanda, seems to gain the most support. Importantly, the article calls for expanding the tax base in poorer countries. Possible candidates are taxes on extractive industries and on goods harmful to health such as tobacco, alcohol and air pollution.

From health to nutrition: Zongrone et al investigate if maternal self-efficacy (basically behaviors) in Bangladesh enhances the chances of feeding green leafy vegetables and introducing eggs (complementary to breastfeeding) to children between 6 months and 2 years of age. Their JN article shows somewhat mixed findings, pointing to the importance of measuring behavioral determinants (they also supports a theory of “moderated mediation”).

A glimpse at fragility issues. Lintelo al have a new IDS report on refugees in Jordan and Lebanon. In particular, they explore the question of “modalities of reception”, and how these drive welfare outcomes for refugee and host communities in cities. It covers a range of interesting issues around informal settlements, national vs municipal efforts, legal residency, economic inclusion, and informal institutions. A short briefing by Brett and Lintelo is available here. Bonus: in an ODI blog Manuel thinks that the Fragility Commission’s new report is “spot on”: support for fragile states needs a new paradigm. This shift should be more focused on building an inclusive political consensus and developing domestic institutions than current approaches have achieved.

Let’s stay in MENA: Machado et al have a 350-page review of social assistance in MENA. The work has a focus on children (UNICEF is partner of IPC in the review) and lays out a number of recommendations to make programs more child-sensitive – from data collection to fiscal space. IPC has also released its new Policy in Focus dedicated to “women at work” – a nice collection of 15 short articles, many of which highly compelling to social protection (e.g. on Peru).

A couple of poverty papers. Do demographics matter for African child poverty? A working paper by Batana and Cockburn shows that taking account of demographics results in downward adjustments of child poverty, adult poverty, and child-adult poverty gaps. Moreover, breakdowns by country show some reranking when comparing poverty between African countries. In a new AE article, Laborde-Debucquet and Martin’s latest modeling projects the global economic slowdown will result in 34 million more people worldwide remaining in poverty by 2030, compared to more optimistic earlier projections. More than half the increase comprised of farmers.

Speaking of farmers, in a Brookings piece, Parizat and Strubenhoff examine if new technologies make poor farmers more bankable. The answer is kind of yes. Across Africa, they show the emergence of an array of services to farmers including e-vouchers for quality inputs at discounted prices; access to agriculture advice services via a training module; and advice on how to appropriately use inputs like seed and fertilizer. Platforms also offer farmers the opportunity to apply, via their cellphones, for a loan to be used to purchase agricultural inputs (although data on total lending and repayment rates is not yet available). Bonus: IFPRI’s Gilligan discusses social protection and agriculture in a short video.

More on Africa: resource-rich countries in Africa tend to do poorly when they have resource-rich neighbors, why? Possibly due to increased conflict according to Adhvaryu et al. In an NBER paper and Vox blog, they show that resources often lead to a direct increase in wealth; however, as resource-driven conflict increases in certain areas (i.e. those with resource-rich rivals and weak institutions), there are sharp declines in economic prosperity. BTW, last week I shared a paper on the Emergency Response Capacity (ERC) Consortium in Nigeria: this week Juillard and Maillard discuss it in the context of Ethiopia.

Final assortment: Wood and Adema have short piece on ‘Rain or shine, Asia needs a better umbrella of social protection’; Hammond plots countries according to their economic freedom and generosity of income transfers; Rieffel reflects on the urban youth unemployment crisis; a Devex article announces DFAT’s new indigenous policy; and  LSE’s Kirk reviews Yanguas’ new thought-provoking book, ‘Why We Lie About Aid’ (see also the author’s ESID blurb).

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