In 1997, Garry Kasparov, one of the greatest chess players in history, lost a chess match to a supercomputer called Deep Blue. Some years later Kasparov developed “advanced chess,” where a human and a computer team up to play against another human and computer. This mutation of chess is mutually beneficial: the human player has access to the computer’s ability to calculate moves, while the computer benefits from human intuition.
Labor and Social Protection
IT’S robots that mostly come to mind when you ask people about the future of work. Robots taking our jobs, to be specific. And it’s a reaction that’s two centuries old, in a replay of Lancashire weavers attacking looms and stocking frames at the start of the first Industrial Revolution. A secondary reaction, among a much smaller group, is the creation of new jobs in the coming fourth Industrial Revolution.
Professor Ed Glaeser at Harvard neatly summarizes this dichotomy in one figure:
Let’s start with social protection in Africa. A new paper by Kagin et al. estimates that in Malawi, each Malawi Kwacha (MK) transferred through the Social Cash Transfer Program generates 1.88 MK, while multipliers of public works are between 2.9-3.24 MK. In the same country, the Malawi Economic Monitor by Kandoole et al. has a very crisp, insightful edition discussing safety nets, e.g., spending is only 0.6% of GDP compared to 2% of input subsidies, and almost 6% on humanitarian aid.
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.
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.