Being poor often means being hurt twice: Kenny and Sandefur have a CGD commentary replicating CEQ analysis and showing that tax-transfer systems reduce inequality in the rich world, but often exacerbate poverty in the poorest countries. In 4 of the 5 Sub-Saharan African countries where CEQ data is available, the net effect of taxes and transfers was an increase the number of people living below the absolute poverty line. In Tanzania, poverty is nearly 20 percent higher due to taxes and transfers.
Labor and Social Protection
Let’s start with the perennial question on whether cash transfers affect work incentives… the answer is yes but not by much. A review by Baird et al shows that programs tend to result in little or no change in adult labor decisions. The exceptions are adults living with seniors receiving pensions and on select refugee programs (although to a limited extent and in risky locations). Check out tables 1 and 2 (p.26-27) for handy summaries of the evidence. Similarly, Daidone et al. found significant impacts of the Zimbabwe Harmonized Social Cash Transfer Program on beneficiary agricultural activities, the share of households owning livestock, and non-farm enterprises.
Amid the recent rise of populism and protectionism, the labor market implications of trade have increasingly moved to the center of political and economic debates. Autor et al (2013), in an influential paper, find that U.S. regions that are more exposed to import-competing manufacturing industries witnessed larger declines in manufacturing employment and wages.
Plenty of vibrant discussions on the role of cash transfers in the ‘graduation’ agenda…
Banerjee et al are back with a new NBER paper on the classic graduation model (a package of assets, training, coaching, and savings). They explore two variants: whether the transfer of assets only would generate similar impacts, and whether access to a savings account and a deposit collection service would generate comparable impacts. Neither outperforms the holistic package. Similarly, a CSAE paper by Sedlmayr et al assesses graduation variants in Uganda--the full package of transfers and training, only the transfers, transfers with only a light-touch training and just attempting to boost savings. They find that cash only was less effective than the more integrated interventions.
Can cash transfers increase trust that citizens bestow upon their government… and even help it work a little better? Yes they can, according to a new paper (and accompanying blog) by Evans, Kosec and Holtemeyer. In 2010, Tanzania launched a pilot conditional cash transfer program, with a randomized roll-out in half of a set of 80 villages. After 2.5 years of transfers, beneficiaries – relative to potential beneficiaries in the waitlisted villages – report a stronger belief that their elected village leaders can be trusted in general, but not their appointed bureaucrats. Beneficiaries are more likely to report that local government leaders take citizens’ concerns into account, and that their honesty has improved over time. Notably, this increased trust does not translate into political activity. Beneficiary households are no more likely to vote in Village Council elections, or attend more Village Council meetings. The research even suggests that the program improves record keeping in the government, but only in sectors linked to transfers (education and health).
This column sets out a monthly selection of social protection materials that I found particularly interesting or helpful in illuminating a certain social protection issue. It is not meant to be comprehensive, but just to highlight and discuss some of the latest thinking and evidence on the matter.
There are about 245 million migrants worldwide – around 3% of the world population. Roughly one-fifth are tertiary educated. Middle-income countries have a smaller proportion of immigrants than high-income countries (about 1% versus 12%). But for a number of middle-income countries with more immigrants than others, there is uneasiness about relying on unskilled foreigners as they strive to leap from low-wage labor and imitation to high-skilled labor and innovation. There are palpable concerns in Malaysia, for example, with some 2.1 million registered immigrants – about 7% of its population - and likely over 1 million undocumented immigrants. Things reached a crescendo early last year when all new hiring of unskilled foreign workers was suspended as the Malaysian government re-evaluated the management and need for foreign workers. The freeze was subsequently lifted for select sectors amid complaints of labor shortages.
Long one of the world’s most unequal countries, Brazil surprised pundits by recording a massive reduction in household income inequality in the last couple of decades. Between 1995 and 2012, the country’s Gini coefficient for household incomes fell by seven points, from 0.59 to 0.52. (For comparison, all of the inequality increase in the United States between 1967 and 2011 amounted to eight Gini points – according to this study.)
In the ongoing debate about the benefits of trade, we must not lose sight of a vital fact. Trade and global integration have raised incomes across the world, while dramatically cutting poverty and global inequality.
Within some countries, trade has contributed to rising inequality, but that unfortunate result ultimately reflects the need for stronger safety nets and better social and labor programs, not trade protection.
In a world riddled with complexity, the simplicity of universal basic income grants (BIGs) is alluring: just give everyone cash. Excerpts of such radical concepts have been put in practice across the globe, with the launch of a pilot in Kenya, results from India, a coalition in Namibia, an experiment in Finland, a pilot in the Unites States, a referendum in Switzerland, and the redistribution of dividends from natural resources in Alaska and elsewhere.