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The political economy of welfare schemes

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture
Medical checkups for children in India.Social welfare schemes the world over are going through interesting times. Egged on by fiscal management targets, welfare cuts are routinely passed off as “reforms”. Subsequently, there is usually pressure on governments to target welfare to the most deserving. Determining who the deserving beneficiaries are and the appropriate value of these transfers is critical.
In a recent edition of the Pathways’ Perspectives, social policy specialist Stephen Kidd bats for universal social security schemes. His central argument is built around the political economy of targeting, suggesting that “inclusive social security schemes build political alliances between those living in poverty, those on middle incomes and the affluent”. Governments that are interested in scaling up social security schemes prefer universal coverage. The argument goes that this way, they build a wide coalition of interests that support their scheme and hope that this support translates into electoral endorsement. On the other hand, governments that are interested in scaling back social security schemes do so by first withdrawing from universal schemes and then introduce an element of targeting. Soon, those that do not benefit from the scheme are more likely to see it as wasteful public spending and therefore, support a move to cut back.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Freedom on the Net 2015
Freedom House
Internet freedom around the world has declined for the fifth consecutive year, with more governments censoring information of public interest and placing greater demands on the private sector to take down offending content. State authorities have also jailed more users for their online writings, while criminal and terrorist groups have made public examples of those who dared to expose their activities online. This was especially evident in the Middle East, where the public flogging of liberal bloggers, life sentences for online critics, and beheadings of internet-based journalists provided a powerful deterrent to the sort of digital organizing that contributed to the Arab Spring. In a new trend, many governments have sought to shift the burden of censorship to private companies and individuals by pressing them to remove content, often resorting to direct blocking only when those measures fail.
The hidden digital divide
Data is fast becoming the universal currency that defines personal status and business success. Those with unlimited access to information have a clear economic and social advantage over those for whom it is not readily to hand. For example, people who can go online can access education and the global marketplace more easily. They also have the political knowledge to demand transparency from their government. When the term digital divide was coined in the 1990s, it simply referred to the growing inequality between people with any type of internet access and those without. On this basis, clear gaps were visible between rich and poor countries, between cities and rural communities.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

The surprising benefits of autocratic elections
Washington Post
After a bitterly contested election campaign and several controversial postponements, Muhammadu Buhari engineered an upset of Nigeria’s incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan on Tuesday, the country’s first-ever case of electoral turnover. Legislative elections will follow on April 11, while two other African countries, Sudan and Togo, are also scheduled to hold elections over the next two weeks. Besides the coincidence in electoral timing, these countries share another surprising link—all three are generally recognized as autocracies. The marriage of autocracy with contested elections is, in fact, the norm nowadays. All but five autocracies have held a national election since 2000, with about three in four allowing multiparty competition. What makes these regimes autocratic is that the elections fail to meet democratic standards, typically with state power being used to favor the ruling party.
Cellphones for Women in Developing Nations Aid Ascent From Poverty
New York Times
Here is what life is like for a woman with no bank account in a developing country. She keeps her savings hidden — in pots, under mattresses, in fields. She constantly worries about thieves. She may even worry about her husband taking cash she has budgeted for their children’s needs. Sending money to a family member in another village is risky and can take days. Obtaining a loan in an emergency is often impossible. An unexpected expense can mean she has to pull a child out of school or sell a cow the family relies on for income. Or, worse, it can mean she must give birth at home without medical assistance because she doesn’t have the money for a ride to a clinic. In ways big and small, life without access to financial services is more difficult, expensive and dangerous. It constrains a woman’s ability to plan for her family’s future. At the community level, it traps households in cycles of poverty. More broadly, it limits the economic growth potential of developing countries.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

 These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

States of Fragility 2015: A New Approach to Fragility Post-2015
States of Fragility 2015 is published at an important time for international development cooperation. In 2015, the world's government will agree on a successor framework to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).  This framework will be more ambitious than ever, requiring in turn more urgent efforts to reduce the persistent poverty in fragile situations and strengthen the institutions that can deliver economic and social development. This 2015 OECD report on fragility contributes to the broader debate to define post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), and argues that addressing fragility in the new framework will be crucial if strides in reducing poverty are to be made. 
How interactive radio is reshaping politics in Africa
The powerful combination of interactive radio and mobile phones is a force for political change in East Africa, says researcher Sharath Srinivasan in this audio interview.  As director of the Centre of Governance & Human Rights at the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, Srinivasan leads a team that uses ethnographic research, behavioural data and audience surveys to analyse how people in Kenya, Uganda and Zambia use radio for political and social debate. He says that call-in shows are hugely popular in these countries, particularly in rural areas where radio remains the dominant form of media. The rise of these shows has compelled politicians to tune in and directly engage with the on-air debates, Srinivasan says, shifting the relationship between people and policymakers.  But challenges remain.

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
Tightening the Net: Governments Expand Online Controls
Freedom House
Internet freedom around the world has declined for the fourth consecutive year, with a growing number of countries introducing online censorship and monitoring practices that are simultaneously more aggressive and more sophisticated in their targeting of individual users. In a departure from the past, when most governments preferred a behind-the-scenes approach to internet control, countries are rapidly adopting new laws that legitimize existing repression and effectively criminalize online dissent.

Is vote-buying always bad for development?
International Growth Center
Elections in the developing world suffer from considerable problems such as ballot fraud, low voter education. electoral violence, and clientelism. If developing world elections do not revolve mainly around policy accountability, there could be important consequences for economic development

How to Insult Your Opponent

Sina Odugbemi's picture

You really should not go around insulting those who take an opposing viewpoint in public debate. The ideal is clear. You treat opponents with respect. You take seriously what they are saying. In responding, you do not cheat, you do not unfairly sum up or characterize what they are saying. You acknowledge facts; you are not entitled to inventing your own facts. Above all, as much as possible, you avoid logical fallacies. You argue logically and cogently. For, that is the only way that the search for truth is advanced, and it is the only way that informed public opinion created. In short, abuse is no argument. Civility in public discourse is a great and worthwhile ideal.

And yet!

Much of public debate and discussion takes the form of invective. It was always thus; and it seems it will always be thus. The culprits, I suppose, are human passions; those self-same unruly horses that carry us to great heights when we want to achieve something worthwhile. We often become so convinced that we are right that we cannot imagine how anyone would disagree. And when we confront opponents who are as certain as we are that they are right something seems to snap. Faces contort. Abuse and spit fly. No matter how often people are told to calm down, commit to logical reasoning, respect facts… nothing seems to work. A huge chunk of public debate on the great issues of the day is characterized by the trading of insults.

Insults must serve a purpose, otherwise how come all public political cultures have them?

Campaign Art: Raising Her Voice

Roxanne Bauer's picture
People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.

Only 1 in 5 parliamentarians worldwide are female, and even fewer serve as Head of State or Head of Government.

In formulating and implementing government policy and development projects, the lack of female voices in decision-making processes can have unfortunate consequences. For example, an estimated 222 million women in the developing world would like to delay or prevent pregnancies but do not use contraception, resulting in 20 million unsafe abortions and 30million unplanned pregnancies.

Raising Her Voice, Oxfam's global programme to support female political participation and leadership through collective activism, has empowered women worldwide, creating avenues  to make their voices heard.  This ensures that political processes are accountable to them and that policies reflect their needs.  

The following video commissioned by Oxfam International illustrates why it's important for women to be a part of decision making, but also that it is possible.

Raising Her Voice

The Case for Democracy- A New Study on India, South Africa and Brazil (shame it’s not much good – missed opportunity)

Duncan Green's picture

The ODI is a 10 minute train ride from my home, so I’m easily tempted out of my lair for the occasional lunchtime meeting. Last week it was the launch of ‘Democracy Works: The Democratic Alternative from the South’, a paper on the three ‘rapidly developing democracies’ of Brazil, India and South Africa, co-authored by the Legatum Institute and South Africa’s Centre for Development and Enterprise (not ODI, who merely hosted the launch). I was underwhelmed.

Which is a shame, because the topic is great – China’s rise and the West’s economic implosion are undermining arguments for democratic and open systems around the world. The report quotes Jacob Zuma: “the economic crisis facing countries in the West has put a question mark on the paradigm and approaches which a few years ago were celebrated as dogma to be worshipped.”

Quote of the Week: Arvind Kejriwal

Sina Odugbemi's picture

"I used to hate politics and politicians."

- Arvind Kejriwal, an Indian politician and former civil servant. He leads the Aam Aadmi Party (translation: Common Man Party), which he launched in 2012. He is well-known for his efforts to enact and implement the Right to Information Act (RTI) and in drafting a proposed Jan Lokpal Bill (Citizen's Ombudsman Bill) that sought the appointment of a Jan Lokpal, an independent body, to investigate corruption cases.  In the 2013 Delhi Legislative Assembly election, the Aam Aadmi Party won 28 seats, propelling him to serve as the chief minister in Delhi from December 28, 2013 to February 14, 2014.


Quote of the Week: Rahm Emanuel

Sina Odugbemi's picture

The first third of your campaign is money, money, money. The second third is money, money, money. The final is votes, press, and money.”

- Rahm Emanuel, an American politician who serves as the 55th Mayor of Chicago and previously served as Representative of the 5th Congressional District in Illinois from 2003-2009 and as US President Obama's White House Chief of Staff from 2009-2010.