What Mexico can teach New York

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Recently, the Financial Times picked up on the success of Mexico's conditional cash transfer program. Hailed as a genuine development success story, Mexico in 1997 instituted a program in which mothers from poor families received cash payments conditional on obligations such as their children's school attendance. A randomized evaluation was incorporated into the program from the beginning, and the results of it suggest the program - originally called Progresa, later rebranded as Oportunidades - has been quite effective at achieving its goals. (A summary evaluation of Progresa can be found here.)

It's interesting to see how far this program has spread beyond Mexico's borders. I suspect part of the appeal is not only its demonstrated success, but also the fact that conditional cash transfers appear 'post-partisan'. This concept incorporates elements both of state support but also of incentives, thus making it appealing to a pretty wide spectrum. Even New York city has decided to imitate the program. According to the article in the FT:

Nonetheless, the Mexican experience quickly inspired other countries in Latin America and, more recently, initiatives in Asia and Africa. Last autumn Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, unveiled the first payments for Opportunity NYC, paying an average of $546 to families in the city who met certain education, health and employment targets.

In other words, the citizens of New York are benefiting from an experiment carried out in Mexico, but New York paid none of the costs of the experiment. What we have, I think, is a global public good in the form of policy experimentation and evaluation. If so many countries are free riding on the results of this experiment, perhaps the world is drastically underinvesting in these types of experiments?


Ryan Hahn

Operations Officer

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