Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Forgive me, father, for I have been cynical

Or, rather, I'm about to be. Y'see, a new IFPRI study finds that Bolsa Familia - Brazil's conditional cash transfer program - does good things. Normally I jump up and down and blow my vuvuzuela* at such happy news. For once I'm a little doubtful.

What did they find? Infants were getting their vaccinations, children were enrolling and staying in school longer, and mothers got more prenatal doctor visits.

This is good. This is great. I'm happy. Really.

The idea behind the CCT is "you do x, y, and z and we'll give you money." Lo and behold, we find that people are willing to do x, y, and z for money. ... And what have we learned that we didn't know?

Now if we find, five years after the program stops, that the steady-state level of vaccinations, school enrollments, and prenatal visits is still higher than before the program, I will be impressed. If we find, however, that monetary incentives have replaced social norms instead of creating new ones, and all these things drop relative to the baseline if the money is withdrawn, I will be very worried.

* - They're doing some renovations a few doors down and all day long it has been like being in the center section of the World Cup around here. They finally stopped but my ears are still ringing.

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