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July 6, 2018 (links edition #64)

Can cash transfers increase political participation? In a new NBER working paper, Akee et al investigate how unconditional cash transfers affected voting in US elections across two generations from the same household. Cash, which was part of the Eastern Cherokee casino dividends program, increased children’s voting propensity in adulthood among those raised in initially poorer families. However, transfers have no effect on parents, regardless of initial income levels. These results suggest that family circumstance during childhood—income in particular—plays a role in influencing levels of political participation in the United States.

Still on cash, but in Africa: how do soft-conditions, or accompanying measures, shape behaviors in Lesotho? An JAE article by Pace et al. show that cash complemented by ‘labelling’ and ‘messaging’ can induce more child-senstive spending patterns relative to no-message scenarios (h/t Alejandro Grinspun). (I really liked their analysis of marginal propensity to consume out of transfer versus general income). In a JDE article on Tanzania, Riley examines whether remittances received via mobile money (from remittances) can affect risk sharing arrangements within villages after rainfall shocks: it is only users of mobile money who are able to prevent a drop in their consumption – basically tech-enabled remittances are not shared with other village members.

Several resources on universal basic income. Ortiz et al have a great working paper clarifying how UBI relates to other concepts, like social protection floors, as well as providing new cross-country (huge) cost estimates using national poverty lines (global average is between 32-39% of GDP). In the context of South Africa, an article by Schreiber makes the case that a UBI is better than minimum wages: “… compared to an inflexible minimum wage that would only benefit a minority of workers at the expense of the majority of economically inactive citizens, a basic income (…) would be a more just and cost-effective solution that directly empowers the most desperate South Africans” (h/t Indhira Santos). In the New Yorker, Heller has a piece reviewing the various political, historical and economic issues at hand. Talking of history, here is a call for papers by Cambridge for a conference on the “intellectual history of UBI” early next year. Bonus on universality: an IDS briefing by Nelson et al discusses what select countries (Brazil, China, Mozambique, UK) can learn from their ongoing pathways toward universal health coverage.

More on health and other human capital materials. In the US, SNAP benefits are fixed across 48 states; but local food prices vary, leading to geographic variation in the real value – or purchasing power – of SNAP benefits: Ronchetti et al find that lower SNAP purchasing power leads to lower utilization of preventive health care and more days of school missed due to illness. Nilsson examines school-to-work transitions in developing countries. He finds that, while few models seem adapted to developing countries’ labor markets, education is not always associated with shorter durations to first employment. Other reasons also matter, like higher expectations, reservation wages, or queuing. Also, women generally experience longer transitions in the labor market. Paudel and Ryu have a new WD article on how shocks affect human capital in Nepal. They find that infants born in districts severely affected by the earthquake are 13.8% less likely to complete middle school and 10% less likely to complete high school – among low caste groups, those rates increase are 17.6% and 11.9%, respectively. Finally, in a AJAE piece, Chakrabarti et al find that the introduction of pulses in the Indian PDS, though statistically significant, was not large enough to bring about any sizable difference in consumption of protein intake.

Let’s stay in Asia: just under half of all global disasters occurred in the Asia and Pacific region between 2000 and 2017. Yet, a new ODI report by Peters estimates that between 1997–2016, only 4% of ODA was spent on disaster prevention and preparedness. This is in stark contrast with about 72% of ODA spending going for emergency response. Figures at country level mirror this pattern: for every $100 spent on emergency response, Afghanistan received $2.24, Pakistan $1.74, Myanmar $6.61, and DPRK $3.23.

Speaking of crises, in Jordan refugee spending costs the government just under 2.25 percent of GDP per year, or about 9 percent of non-interest government expenditure. Plant reflects about the implications of such level against the IMF-supported programs to bring down the overall debt level of the country (from 95.1 to 77 percent of GDP by 2022). A “tip sheet” by Simpson and Juillard defines market support programming in humanitarian contexts, and what it can look like in practice. Lwanda and Phillips review ChildFund’s pilot cash transfer in Gambia using mobile money to assist people displaced by political crisis.

From displacement to economic mobility: Alesina et al present evidence from 6 countries (France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, UK, and US) exposing the gulf between preconceptions and reality on immigration. Results from their NBER paper indicates that respondents greatly overestimate the total number of immigrants, think immigrants are culturally and religiously more distant from them, and are economically weaker – less educated, more unemployed, poorer, and more reliant on government transfers – than is the case. Support for redistribution is strongly correlated with the perceived composition of immigrants – their origin and economic contribution – rather than with the perceived share of immigrants per se. They also experimentally show respondents information about the true i) number, ii) origin, and iii) “hard work” of immigrants in their country – on its own, information on the “hard work” of immigrants generates more support for redistribution.

Let me conclude with a set of jobs resources. Mickelson and Hecker examine public funding for job training in the US at state and local level. Case studies from Massachusetts, Texas, and Washington document the emergence of six strategies to manage training funding—i.e., seeking diverse revenue sources, leveraging public- and private-funding, braiding and blending funding, using dedicated fees for training, funding sector-based training initiatives, and collaborating and coordinating to fill training gaps. McKenzie has a handy note on insights from 10 years (and 25 papers) of migration and develoment conferences. Three messages from the CGD paper on automation by Schlogl and Sumner: first, automation is not just a rich country issue (the kinds of jobs common in developing countries—such as routine agricultural work—are substantially more susceptible to automation than the service jobs); second, automation is not only about technology (questions like profitability, labor regulations, unionization, and corporate-social expectations will be at least as important as technical constraints in determining which jobs get automated); finally, the is a need to pay more attention to stagnating wages than unemployment (workers will continue to flood into the service sector, driving down wages, leading to a bloating of service-sector employment and wage stagnation but not to mass unemployment).

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