The results from Twaweza’s latest Sauti za Wananchi poll in Tanzania are out, and they include some interesting questions about public support for cash transfers. There’s a good write-up at the CGD blog. In short, people were less supportive of cash transfers than one might have expected – and the more they learned about the transfers, the more likely they were to say that they would prefer the government to spend money on other public goods. This is all the more surprising given that the transfers provided through the Tanzania Social Action Fund have been found to have a wide range of positive social impacts.
I came across similar types of skepticism when I was speaking with people in Ghana about the LEAP program this summer. These were informal conversations with friends and casual acquaintances, so obviously not representative of Ghanaian public opinion generally, but they still had an interesting range of variation. A number of people voiced the standard objection that cash transfers would make recipients lazy and entitled. When I pointed out that research in other low income countries has shown that this isn’t generally the case, they often suggested that Ghana might be the exception. (Regardless of one’s priors on this matter, though, I’m fairly sure that receiving US$10 – 20 a month isn’t encouraging many people to drop out of the labor market.)
One reaction that I hadn’t expected was what I’ve come to think of as the public goods critique, similar to the Twaweza results. Several people agreed that cash transfers might be useful, but suggested that this could lead to lower investment in other types of public goods. Tony Hall at LSE has argued this explicitly in the case of Brazil. The underlying concern here seemed to be that the current donor enthusiasm for cash transfers would give governments a way of ducking their responsibilities to provide public goods – giving poor citizens small amounts of money before sending them off to fend for themselves. It’s certainly true that cash transfers are administratively much simpler than maintaining functioning public education or healthcare systems. A promising area for future research, I think.