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South Sudan

Let Them Eat Cash

Shanta Devarajan's picture
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The Economist this week has an excellent article on giving cash transfers, conditionally or unconditionally, to poor people to alleviate their poverty.  Calling it “possibly the single best piece of journalism on cash transfers that I’ve seen so far,” Chris Blattman—one of the scholars whose research has provided grist for this mill—laments that such writing “tends to make the Pulitzer committee fall asleep in bed.”  Maybe so, but the idea is potentially transformative.

Cash Transfers

That cash conditional on sending your children to school or taking them for a medical checkup improves health and education outcomes has been established for some time now.  More recently, some studies show that unconditional cash transfers could have the same effect.  Chris’s work demonstrates that giving cash to idle young people leads to higher business earnings than if the money were used to run vocational training courses for these people.


In parallel, Todd Moss at the Center for Global Development and my colleague Marcelo Giugale and I (along with several others) have been exploring the idea of transferring oil revenues to citizens as cash transfers, as a way of reducing the resource curse that afflicts many resource-rich countries, especially in Africa.  Gabon for instance, with a per-capital income of $10,000 has the second-lowest child immunization rate in Africa.  Marcelo and I show that, with just 10 percent of resource revenues’ being transferred directly to citizens (in equal amounts), poverty can largely be eliminated in the smaller resource-rich African countries.