29 November 2011

America in one sentence

And now for some balance, some amateur anthropologising about America.
"This feeling of embarrassment, this shyness, this bashfulness, if you take that out of the people, then these people will do whatever they want to do. And that is the very definition of America, a people who have no shame, and therefore they do, whatever, they want, to do."
Unknown, from the end of Phony Rappers by A Tribe Called Quest

Reasons *not* to target social cash transfers on the poorest

the middle class defined in relative terms does matter, precisely because they are the middle—the swing vote. It isn’t that they are especially worthy, more that they are essentially in between. If they make up the 60 percent between the bottom thirty and the top ten, which side they back is going to be important. So if we want to design policies that get implemented, we will want to consider them. That is, for example, a reason to consider transfer mechanisms that target the bottom 60 percent rather than the bottom 20 percent. Depending on country circumstances, it might make the transfer more politically attractive even while dramatically increasing its cost and reducing targeting efficiency. But that is a matter of the middle class’s statistical strength, not its social characteristics; indeed, it suggests we think of the middle class not as especially virtuous but as usually selfish.
Charles Kenny, "Where is the virtue in the middle class?"

Englishness at-a-glance

From the very excellent "Watching the English" by Kate Fox, "self-appointed national ethno-shrink." This is pretty old and has been on my to-read list for some time, but I suppose I never got around to it as I had the impression that it seemed a bit frivolous. It is not. Whilst some of it may seem obvious, it is obvious in the same kind of incredibly simple but incredibly powerful way that the theory of supply and demand is obvious, with wide explanatory power. There are all sorts of rules of behaviour which I follow, without ever knowing that I did, or why. 

Essential reading for basically everyone who suffers from, is close to someone who suffers, or lives amongst those who suffer from Englishness. Especially those awkward teenagers who have no idea that their social dis-ease is a defining national trait rather than a personal failing (I certainly didn't).

Do any readers have any other pop anthropology recommendations?

19 November 2011

What can the history of welfare states in the west teach us about social protection in developing countries?

From Peter Lindert, Growing Public: Social Spending and Economic Growth since the Eighteenth Century (HT: MR)
The same forces will continue to drive global trends in social transfers for the next half-century. Countries’ social transfers, like their commitment to public schooling, will depend mainly on their income growth, their population aging, and the fullness of their democracy. The Robin Hood paradox will continue to hold in the year 2050: The countries that still spend less than 10 percent of GDP on transfers, and little on schools, will be the troubled countries where poverty and inequality call most loudly for such social spending.
Yes, social spending has been internally driven for most countries, but the "robin hood paradox" would suggest to me a potential catalytic role for aid.

17 November 2011

What do cash transfers do to social relations?

My colleagues Ian MacAuslan and Nils Riemenschneider have a new paper in the IDS Bulletin [ungated version here]
Cash transfers are an increasingly important component of social protection systems in most countries. Usually, cash transfers are evaluated against their effects on poverty or human capital, with their impact on social relations within and between households relegated to discrete comments on ‘stigma’, ‘resentment’ and sharing, including reduction of remittances and other support. Using evidence from Oxford Policy Management's evaluations of cash transfer programmes in Malawi and Zimbabwe, we suggest reconceptualising cash transfers as ongoing processes of intervention in a complex system of social relations. Cash transfer interventions operate through and affect this system at each stage: awareness-raising, targeting, payment, case management and monitoring and evaluation. We conclude that the impact of cash transfers on social relations is large and often negative. We argue that this is intrinsically important for wellbeing, but can also have negative consequences for material aspects of wellbeing, such as livelihoods.
Which sounds to me like it could be construed as a pretty good argument for making transfers universal, perhaps starting like South Africa with support for children, pensions, and disabled people.

On a bit of a tangent - who knows what the lessons are for developing countries from the history of social protection in the West?

15 November 2011

Jonathan Franzen's "Freedom"

Not gonna lie, it's the first novel I've read in a while, but I'm very much enjoying it. Favourite (but not at all representative) quote so far:
“He became another data point in the American experiment of self-government, an experiment statistically skewed from the outset, because it wasn't the people with sociable genes who fled the crowded Old World for the new continent; it was the people who didn't get along well with others.”

10 November 2011

NAO Report on DFID Funding for Cash Transfers

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, says "transfers show clear immediate benefits, including reduced hunger and raised incomes [for some of the most impoverished and vulnerable people in developing countries]."

How many aid projects can we say that for?

Social protection gets 4.5% of DFID's bilateral aid budget.

More at the Guardian and the full report here.  

06 November 2011

Dreze and Sen on Poverty in India

There is probably no other example in the history of world development of an economy growing so fast for so long with such limited results in terms of broad-based social progress.
Outlook India (HT: @cdsamii)

05 November 2011

Progress on Governance in South Sudan

1. The Public Financial Management Bill, a key piece of foundational legislation governing government expenditure, which has sat in draft form for several years has finally almost been passed by the Legislative Assembly (this is very good news).

2. The government accounts for 2005 and 2006 have finally been audited and presented to the Legislative Assembly, again, really great news (although there is some pretty nasty stuff in the details of the audit, it is important that people are hearing about it).

3. The Minister for Public Service Reform has resigned due to opposition from the rest of the cabinet on her reforms. There is no doubt reform is needed, but perhaps her ambitions for hiring only those with higher qualifications was unrealistic.

Two steps forward and one step back? Altogether, there was a kind of sense before the referendum that the independence was the absolute priority, and everything else would have to wait. A kind of reluctance to rock the boat or present any division for Khartoum to try and exploit. But that after independence things might change. I really hope so. 

02 November 2011

War! Huh (What is it good for) (Apparently PFM reform)

Or that was one of the more colourful* claims made by Stephen Peterson in a seminar a couple of weeks ago on his work over 12 years with the Ministry of Finance in Ethiopia. Apparently the war with Eritrea meant all the other international advisers left, leaving him alone to work with the government without the distraction of competing missions from different donors.** He was the only expat in the Ministry of Finance, compared to something like 282 at one point in Kenya.

Ethiopia now has the third best PFM system in Africa, after South Africa and Mauritius.

*Damn you America, for making me have to pause and think about the correct spelling of common words like this
**Just to be clear, I'm really not trying to imply that war is in any way a good thing. War is still bad yeah?

01 November 2011

Inflation in South Sudan


SIXTY PERCENT inflation in South Sudan. That is pretty much crisis levels. Credit to the National Bureau of Statistics for getting the figures out so quickly. This is largely a reflection of how dependent South Sudan is on imports, as poor rains regionally have sent food prices soaring in Kenya and Uganda, and independence has caused disruption to Northern traders and at the border.

Stationary Bandits

The 2009 World Bank Report Sudan: The Road Toward Sustainable and Broad-Based Growth and the 2010 GoSS Growth Strategy both highlight the issue of informal road checkpoints as a major constraint to trade within South Sudan, but primarily based upon (extensive) anecdote.

The South Sudan National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) have now just released the results from the first survey of Check-points on Major Trade Routes within South Sudan. Following an approach used by Ben Olken and Patrick Barron in Indonesia Thailand (oops), the NBS hired enumerators to sit, unannounced, alongside commercial trucks travelling along major trade routes, and make notes of the location of each checkpoint, the amount charged, and time spent waiting. The results are pretty damning.

Check-points are numerous. There are 4 check-points per 100km or 1 per 25km along the major trade routes in South Sudan.  
Payment is widespread. On all except one route surveyed, drivers made a payment at an average of 97% or more of the check-points they stopped at. 
Payment is not confined to the international border posts. While the largest payments occur at the international borders, payment on internal routes can be up to 8% of the value of goods transported.  
Most individual payments are small. 47% of individual payments were less than 20 SDG and only 4% were more than 500 SDG. 
Total payment is significant. For all but two routes surveyed, average payment per 100km exceeds 100 SDG. For more than half the routes surveyed, payment per 100 km exceeds 200 SDG. For 10 of 21 routes surveyed, drivers pay 4% or more of the value of items carried. Even on purely internal routes, drivers pay out up to 8% of the value of items carried. 
Many payments are unreceipted. 47% of individual payments made during the survey were unreceipted. 27% of the total payment made during the survey was unreceipted. 
Waiting times at check-points are high. Across all routes, waiting time is on average 2 hours 9 minutes per 100km or 65% of driving time. 
The most commonly observed officials are police and traffic police, sighted at more than 50% of check-points respectively. In many cases, more than one type of official is present at a check-point.
 If the government is as serious about acting to stop collections at checkpoints as they say they are, this is plenty of evidence to go on.