Thursday, October 31, 2013

Cash Transfers Mixed Results on Height

Giving money to directly to the poor has become such a widely popular policy tool it is harder to find a country that is not doing it than one that is. One choice that policy makers face is if to put conditions on the money they send. The Economist has an excellent article that compares conditional to unconditional programs. Conditional cash transfers pay money to mothers conditional on their children attending schooling and going in for regular health checkups. Despite conditionality on regular health checkup and growth monitoring there are mixed results of conditional transfer programs to improve children's height and the new study on an unconditional transfer shows no impact on height. I use children's height because it is one of the better indicators of long term human capital development.

I make this claim of mixed results of cash transfer performance on height based on a meta-analysis I co-authored with James Manley and Vanya Slavchevska published in World Development. We find conditional and unconditional cash transfer programs have only small and statistically not significant impacts on height when aggregated across programs.  We find similar results when we look at only Latin American conditional cash transfers. I have also heard reports of a few cash transfer programs collecting height data but not reporting them in their impact evaluations, so the small impacts are likely an overestimate.

The economic development blogosphere has been talking about a recent study (David McKenzie,Chris Blattman, Brent Keller; Amanda Glassman)  of a program called Give Directly where you can as the website suggests make donations directly to Kenyan families. The study find a lot of positive effects: household eat more food, were happier and accumulated assets.
On thing I did notice is that Give Directly had no impact on children's height (see Table 6 in the study link).Amanda Glassman in her post highlights some of success of cash transfer programs, which include reducing stunting (that is helping the most malnourished). She pointed to a study of a conditional cash transfer program in the Philippines that reduced stunting, however like Give Directly it did not seem to increase overall height.

My take it seems cash transfers are doing a decent job in some cases of reducing the worst forms of malnutrition (stunting), the other results are little less clear if there are any impacts. It seems from reading several pieces that we understand cash increases food intake however is not leading to the nutrition gains expected. Like others I think understanding the pathways that cash leads to improved height increases needs more study. What I would like to see is (and perhaps I'm just not finding them) is more nutritionists participating in the discussions and thinking carefully about how to adapt programs so cash actually leads to human development with stronger results.

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Monday, April 29, 2013

Coffee and Ennui

Sitting in the new La Madeleine in Silver Spring and have to say I’m a little bit disappointed and feeling ennui on a rainy day. My local Silver Spring advice is to head down Georgia Ave to Zed’s cafĂ©, which is friendlier, has better coffee,  more comfortable chairs, and working wi-fi.  A larger thought on restaurants and coffee shops. They are good example of the third factor in production. The first two factors in any output model in economics are labor and capital. That is how many people work there and how many machines (eg cash register, grills, toaster, coffee makers)  there are.  The goal of a chain restaurant like La Madeleine is to create a model where the same capital can be bought, the same number of staff can be hired and you get the same production. As anyone who visited multiple locations of the same chain can tell you some are better than other [side note, I often pass the Starbucks in the Towson library to go to the Towson Starbucks on York road because of the better service]. These differences exists despite the same amount labor and capital. This third factor in production could include human capital (how educated the workers are), local norms (do people typically work hard) and local governance (management). Just like a bad Starbucks,  La Madeleine or any chain restaurant a country like Nicaragua might produce a lot less than Costa Rica even they have similar population sizes and land endowments.

A second thought. My favorite all time coffee shops include Saint’s Rest Grinnell Iowa,  Indie Coffee Madison Wisconsin and Java House Iowa City. I’m not ready to put Zed’s in that category yet, although the free piece of cake on my last visit didn’t hurt. What I think is that changes have a problem of making the truly special at a large scale. As Matt Yglesia points out today although many economic interventions work on a small scale very few can work on a larger scale (perhaps pills are one of the few) since scaling is so much easier. Starbucks has done a decent job of scaling the small coffee shop feel, and as evident by this Washington Post article its hard on a large restaurant too. 

Anyway food for thought.

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