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Weekly Social Protection Links Posts

November 10, 2017 (links edition #33)

Let’s kick-off with cash transfers in humanitarian settings: Gilbert and Austin examine the joint, interagency cash transfer facility in Jordan (currently used by 10 organizations); Radice reviews USAID’s cash transfers to the Ebola Crisis in Liberia and Sierra Leone; Dumas et al. examine the same response from a technology perspective; and a report by Akwii-Wangusa et al. summarizes an event on multipurpose cash for South Sudanese refugees in Uganda’s Bidibi refugee camp. Bonus: the OECD has a cash 101 paper designed for donor staff.

Safety nets in the US and beyond: a very interesting AEI paper by Schanzenbach discusses the evidence and future of SNAP (food vouchers) in the US (h/t Ruslan Yemstov). The paper shows that $1 of SNAP benefits generate up to $1.79 in economic activity, while also offering a countercyclical response in times of economic downturns (figure 4 is brilliant). Yet SNAP, she argues, could do more to assist participants with finding employment, while federal investments in monitoring could further reduce fraud and error in the program. Two diametrically different perspectives on UBI: in the US, a sharp NYT oped by Rubin dismisses a UBI in favor of a package of public works, wage subsidies and trainings (h/t Ramya Sundaram); in The Guardian, Chakrabortty argues that UBI in Finland is working (h/t Will Wiseman).

A look at India, which featured in several papers in this week. As research on public works has shown, e.g. Philip Harvey in the case of the US New Deal programs, their benefits can be both direct (wages) as well as indirect (changes induced in market wages and employment): in this vein, an NBER paper by Muralidharan et al. estimated such composite effect through a large-scale RCT of India’s NREGA scheme (h/t Alvaro Gonzales). Results? Earnings of low-income households rose 13%, driven overwhelmingly by market (90%) as opposed to program earnings (10%). Low-skilled wages increased 6% and days without paid work fell 7%, while migration and prices were unaffected. Drawing from such evaluation, another paper by Muralidharan and Niehaus makes the case for large-scale RCTs and lay out what it takes, e.g., time for building trust and credibility, management expertise, longer-term funding horizons, and formal institutional frameworks for collaboration between researchers and government implementing partners. Barclays lays out the top 10 factors behind the country’s growth – ingredient #8 is DBT, the direct electronic cash transfers from the government to beneficiaries’ bank accounts that, according to estimates, have induced savings for $8.7 billion. More on IDs? Listen to yesterday’s CGD podcast with Nilekani.

From India to China and its role in development. Wegenast et al. have an interesting paper about the ambiguous social impacts of Chinese mining in Africa: while proximity to Chinese-operated mines is associated with anti-Chinese sentiments and unemployment, populations living close to the Chinese mining areas enjoy better infrastructure, such as paved roads or piped water. In a new article, Postel argues that while the conventional wisdom is that China pursues a state-led planned strategy, data from Zambia shows that China’s presence is instead typified by a multitude of both public and private actors with independent motives. More globally, an AidData working paper by Dreher et al. finds that China spent $354.3 billion on development assistance over the 15-year period from 2000 to 2014 — a figure approaching the $394.6 billion spent by the U.S. over that same timeframe. Less concessional and more commercially oriented projects make up the bulk of the China’s global official finance portfolio. China (and access to uncensored internet) is also the subject of one of the 6 papers highlighted by Shanta Devarajan in his great FD column – this edition also including topics like systemic transformation vs attribution of results, college tuition, oil sales by the Islamic State, economic effects of refugees, and government accountability in Uganda.

Speaking of Africa: in Zambia, a new JDS article by Lawlor et al. shows that cash transfers provided under the Child Grant Programme enable households to manage weather and price shocks, i.e., cash reduces the likelihood of reducing food consumption by 14 percentage points, increases chances of savings by 6 percentage points, and enhances the likelihood of using social services by 2 percentage points. In a new paper, Campos and Gassier show that while women make up around half of entrepreneurs in Sub-Saharan Africa, there are large gender gaps in firm performance. For instance, firms owned by women tend to underperform those owned by men on profitability, survival rates, average size, and growth trajectory. In order to overcome barriers and enhance firm outcomes, they classify interventions into those that work – including savings accounts, large in-kind and cash transfers, and gender-sensitive skills development – and those that don’t so, among which they include microfinance and small-scale cash grants, traditional business training programs, and business formalization alone. Bonus on gender, with two IDS working papers on balancing women’s paid and unpaid social care work, i.e., Rohwerder et al. on Rwanda and Ghosh et al. on Nepal.

A final assorted collection: check out the JEP’s section by Banerjee et al. on how experiments contribute to economic policymaking (p.73-125) – quite nuanced reflections in there; Yemen is risking the worst famine in decades; Freetown’s mudslides expose the limits of Sierra Leone’s urban planning; Sheffield’s SPERI institute has an interesting series of short think-pieces around “revising the developmental state” (i.e., the role of state in development). Hitherto they published 7 pieces, with last one on ‘the Mauritius miracle’. Last but not least: Ruel et al. have a comprehensive lit review on nutrition-sensitive agriculture, including summarizing both the evidence on impacts and charting pathways that affect where and how agriculture may improve nutrition outcomes.