Latest research findings
Do informed citizens receive more ...or pay more? The impact of radio on the government distribution of public health benefits
The government provision of free or subsidized bed nets to combat malaria in Benin allows the identification of new channels through which mass media affect public policy outcomes. Prior research has concluded that governments provide greater private benefits to better-informed individuals. Phil Keefer and Stuti Khemani  show, for the first time, that governments can also respond by exploiting informed individuals' greater willingness to pay for these benefits. Using a "natural experiment" in radio markets in northern Benin, the authors find that media access increases the likelihood that households pay for the bed nets they receive from government, rather than getting them for free. Mass media appears to change the private behavior of citizens – in this case, to invest more of their own resources on a public health good (bed nets) – but not their ability to extract greater benefits from government.
The law’s majestic equality? The distributive impact of litigating social and economic rights
Optimism about the use of laws, constitutions, and rights to achieve social change has never been higher among practitioners. But the academic literature is skeptical that courts can direct resources toward the poor. Using data on social and economic rights cases in five countries, Daniel Brinks and Varun Gauri  examine whether the poor are over or under-represented among the beneficiaries of litigation, relative to their share of the population. They find that the impact of courts varies considerably across the cases, but is positive and pro-poor in two of the five countries (India and South Africa), distribution-neutral in two others (Indonesia and Brazil), and sharply anti-poor in Nigeria. Overall, the results of litigation are much more positive for the poor than conventional wisdom would suggest.
Human rights as demands for communicative action
A key issue with human rights is how to allocate duties correlative to rights claims. Varun Gauri and Daniel Brinks  address the issue by taking the practices of domestic courts in several countries as a normative benchmark. Upon reviewing how courts in Colombia, India, South Africa, Indonesia, and elsewhere have allocated duties associated with socio-economic rights, the paper finds that courts urge parties to move from an adversarial to an investigative mode, impose requirements that parties argue in good faith, and structure a public forum of communication. The conclusion argues that judicial practice involves requiring respondents to engage in communicative, instead of strategic, action, and explores the implications of this understanding of human rights.
Human rights based approaches to development: concepts, evidence, and policy
Varun Gauri and Siri Gloppen  assess the benefits, risks, and limitations of human rights-based approaches to development, which can be catalogued on the basis of the institutional mechanisms they rely on: global compliance based on international and regional treaties; the policies and programming of donors and executive agencies; rights talk; and legal mobilization. The authors briefly review the politics of the first three kinds of human rights based approaches before examining constitutionally-based legal mobilization for social and economic rights in greater detail. Litigation for social and economic rights is increasing in frequency and scope in several countries, and exhibits appealing attributes, such as inclusiveness and deliberative quality. Still, there are potential problems with this form of human rights based mobilization, including middle class capture, the potential counter-majoritarianism of courts, and difficulties in compliance. The conclusion summarizes what is known, and what remains to be studied, regarding human rights based approaches to development.
Aid tying and donor fragmentation
Stephen Knack and Lodewijk Smets  test two opposing hypotheses about the impact of aid fragmentation on the practice of aid tying. When a small number of donors dominate the aid market in a country, they may exploit their monopoly power by tying more aid to purchases from contractors based in their own countries. Alternatively, when donors have a larger share of the aid market, they may have stronger incentives to maximize the development impact of their aid by tying less of it. Empirical tests strongly and consistently support the latter hypothesis: higher donor aid shares are associated with less, not more, aid tying.
When do donors trust recipient country systems?
The 2005 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness sets targets for increased use by donors of recipient country systems for managing aid. The target is premised on a view that country systems are strengthened when donors trust recipients to manage aid funds, but undermined when donors manage aid through their own separate parallel systems. Stephen Knack  provides an analytical framework for understanding donors' decisions to trust or bypass country systems. He undertakes empirical tests using data from three OECD-DAC surveys designed to monitor progress toward Paris Declaration goals. Tests show that a donor's use of the recipient country's systems is positively related to: (1) the donor's share of aid provided to the recipient (a proxy for the donor's reputational stake in the country's development); (2) perceptions of corruption in the recipient country (a proxy for the trustworthiness or quality of the country's systems); and (3) public support for aid in the donor country (a proxy for the donor's risk tolerance).
Does it pay to be a cadre? Estimating the returns to being a local official in rural China
Recruiting and retaining leaders and public servants at the grass-roots level in developing countries creates a potential tension between providing sufficient returns to attract talent and limiting the scope for excessive rent-seeking behavior. In China, researchers have frequently argued that village cadres, who are the lowest level of administrators in rural areas, exploit personal political status for economic gain. Much existing research, however, fails to control for unobserved dimensions of ability that are also correlated with success as entrepreneurs or in non-agricultural activities. A new paper by Jian Zhang, John Giles and Scott Rozelle  suggests a measurable return to cadre status, but the magnitudes are not large and provide only a modest incentive to participate in village-level government. The authors do not find evidence that households of village cadres earn significant rents from having a family member who is a cadre.
Does Africa need a rotten kin theorem? Experimental evidence from village economies
Pamela Jakiela and Owen Ozier  measure the economic impact of social pressure to share income with kin and neighbors in rural Kenyan villages. They conduct a lab experiment in which they randomly vary the observability of investment returns. Their goal is to test whether subjects reduce their income in order to keep it hidden. Jakiela and Ozier find that women adopt an investment strategy that conceals the size of their initial endowment in the experiment, although that strategy reduces their expected earnings. This effect is largest among women with relatives attending the experiment. Parameter estimates suggest that women behave as though they expect to be pressured to share four percent of their observable income with others, and substantially more when close kin can observe income directly.
New articles and books
Learning levels and gaps in Pakistan: A comparison with Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh
Jishnu Das, Priyanka Pandey and Tristan Zajonc  report on student achievement in public and private primary schools in rural Pakistan and compare the findings with those from Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. In Pakistan, absolute learning is low and the largest gaps are between good and bad government schools. The gap between children with literate and illiterate mothers is huge. Tested at the end of Grade 3, a bare majority of children have mastered the K-1 mathematics curriculum and only 31% can correctly form a sentence with the word “school” in Urdu. The gap in English test-scores between government and private schools is 12 times the gap between children from rich and poor families. Data from Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh suggest similar levels of learning and educational gaps.
Benefit-incidence analysis: Are government health expenditures more pro-rich than we think?
Authors of benefit-incidence analyses (BIA) have to impute subsidies using assumptions about the relationship between unobserved subsidies 'captured' by the household and what can be observed at the household and aggregate levels. Adam Wagstaff  shows that one of the two assumptions used in BIA studies to date will necessarily produce a more pro-rich (or less pro-poor) picture of government health spending than the other, depending on whether utilization is more pro-rich or pro-poor than fees paid to public providers. Both assumptions have their disadvantages, and the paper suggests a couple of alternatives that explicitly link fees paid to the costliness of care. It shows that in the most likely case where fees are distributed in a more pro-rich fashion than utilization, the two traditional assumptions will produce less pro-rich distributions of subsidies than the two new alternatives. Also considered are three complications that arise in BIA studies, including factoring in social health insurance.
Crossing the threshold: A positive analysis of IBRD graduation policy
According to World Bank policy, countries remain eligible to borrow from the IBRD until they are able to sustain long-term development without further recourse to Bank financing. Graduation from IBRD is not an automatic consequence of reaching a particular income level, but rather is supposed to be based on a determination of whether the country has reached a level of institutional development and capital-market access that enables it to sustain its own development process without recourse to Bank funding. Using panel data from 1982 to 2009, Stephen Knack, Halsey Rogers and Jac Heckelman  find that the observed correlates of Bank graduation status are generally consistent with the stated policy. Countries that are wealthier, more creditworthy, more institutionally developed, and are less vulnerable to trade, financial, and other shocks are more likely to be graduates. Predicted probabilities generated by the model conform closely to actual graduation and de-graduation experiences, and suggest that some countries may have graduated prematurely.
Research in the news
Varun Gauri’s paper with Daniel Brinks  is picked up by The Economist in its Free Exchange column on “The law and the poor: Courts in emerging markets are better for the poor than many assume”. The column concludes: “The study is… a revelation: courts are more majestic than decades of received wisdom have suggested.”
Jishnu Das’s work on the quality of medical care in India is picked up in India’s MINT co-published with the Wall Street Journal in a column titled “Accountability failures mar National Rural Health Mission”. The author argued: “If this increased [government] expenditure is to yield results, the focus must shift to doctor accountability and to linking incentives to quality care and improved outcomes.”
And on the blogs
Stuti Khemani and Phil Keefer have a couple of blog posts: one on Africa Can End Poverty picked up by Evan Lieberman (Associate Professor of Politics at Princeton) on his blog; the other on Let’s Talk Development. In the first, they report their research from Benin  showing that community radio makes citizens better informed about education and health, but this translates into more private spending. It does not enable them to get make politicians deliver better resourced public services; in fact, politicians ended up charging well-informed households more for bed nets that they could have got for free. In the second post, Khemani and Keefer try to explain why they get this finding in Benin while other researchers have found radio does help citizens hold politicians accountable.
Writing on the Let’s Talk Development blog, Varun Gauri has a post on “The Law’s Majestic Equality?”. He asks whether as literary writers and academics often assume the poor do in practice get treated less well by the law.
Jishnu Das’s work on Pakistan’s madrassas is picked up by Madhavi in a blog post on The Trajectory.
On the Development Impact blog, Markus Goldstein has a post on an experiment in Mexico set up to answer the question: How to get good civil servants for tough jobs?
In a post on Let’s Talk Development on humanizing health systems, Adam Wagstaff addresses the charges that use of the term “health systems” risks alienating non-specialists and makes the issues seem more complex than they really are. Wagstaff also has a post on Let’s Talk Development that builds on some recent thinking on international trade, knowledge and specialization to ask whether the World Bank’s staff is under-specialized.