Development Economics

Are Conditional Cash Transfers Really the Answer?

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Genius"][/caption] A while back I wrote about conditional cash transfers, which are the next biggest thing in development, in a post called "Where's My Money, Fool," titled so as an homage to the curler-wearing drug dealer Big Worm in the movie "Friday." The most successful example of a good CCT program is Bolsa Familia, a government program in Brazil which has helped to increase incomes for poor families by 7 times as much as incomes for the rich (albeit, off a lower baseline).  Brazil has seen its poverty level drop faster than Snooki inside a plastic Zorb-like ball in the Jersey Shore on New Years Eve.  Specifically, the number of people living in poverty has dropped from 22% to 7% over the last decade. The theory behind conditional cash transfers is simple.  The government pays poor families for meeting certain requirements.  Attendance in school and maintaining standards of healthcare are rewarded with monthly payments.  As long as the family achieves the targets of the program, they are eligible for a payout.  The outcome is two-fold.  First, the family gets immediate relief in the form of cash payments from the government, which can be put toward food and education.  Second, the underlying conditions that cause the unbreakable cycle of poverty to unbroken - lack of education due to the demands of meeting financial needs for the household - are addressed, as financial incentives eliminate the need to pull kids from school to help their parents earn income for the family.  An explanation from the New York Times:

The program fights poverty in two ways.  One is straightforward:  it gives money to the poor.  This works.  And no, the money tends not to be stolen or diverted to the better-off.   Brazil and Mexico have been very successful at including only the poor.  In both countries it has reduced poverty, especially extreme poverty, and has begun to close the inequality gap. The idea’s other purpose — to give children more education and better health — is longer term and harder to measure.  But measured it is — Oportunidades is probably the most-studied social program on the planet.  The program has an evaluation unit and publishes all data. There have also been hundreds of studies by independent academics. The research indicates that conditional cash transfer programs in Mexico and Brazil do keep people healthier, and keep kids in school.
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Development Economics

The Pope Endorses Condom Use

In a possible Joe Biden moment, Pope Benedict allegedly softened his position on condom use in an interview with a German journalist this past summer.   His remarks are being hailed as groundbreaking, even though the context is decidedly limited.  The New York Times:

The pope’s statement on condoms was extremely limited: he did not approve their use or suggest that the Roman Catholic Church was beginning to back away from its prohibition of birth control. In fact, the one example he cited as a possibly appropriate use was by male prostitutes. Still, the statement was something of a milestone for the church and a significant change for Benedict, who faced intense criticism last year when, en route to AIDS-plagued Africa, he said condom use did not help prevent the spread of AIDS, only abstinence and fidelity did.
There is no doubt that this is a positive development.  But, unfortunately, the Church is not starting from a very progressive base to begin with.  It is a bit like commending the Ugandan government from toning down legislation calling for the execution of gays.  Life in prison is better than death, but it is still unequivocally wrong.  The Vatican's stance on the use of contraceptives in the past has been irrational and downright dangerous.  First, I will give some background on the role of the Catholic church in developing countries. The long-term assimilation effects of colonization by the Spanish, coupled with the work of missionaries throughout Africa, South America, and parts of Asia led to the spread of Catholicism in the developing world.  Now, most of the Catholic church's constituents hail from outside of Europe.  The nations with the most Catholics are Brazil (74%, 145 million people), Mexico (91%, 105 million), and the Philippines (74%, 75 million).  Of the billion or so Catholics in the world, a third come from these three countries.  Another 158 million Catholics live in Africa, and hundreds of millions more in South and Central America.  As a comparison, the United States has 68 million baptized Catholics, putting it in fourth place overall.  In other words, the majority of the world's Catholics live in someplace other than the West.  And when the Pope speaks, Catholics all over the world are listening. (more…)