1. Which will be larger for a country: PG or APG? Please explain. (8 points)

2. Country A and Country B have the same population of 200 million. Use the figures in the table below to calculate the head-count ratio and average poverty gap in each country. Finally, carefully interpret the results. (8 points)

Income Distribution below poverty line ($1 per day) 25 cents per day    50 cents per day               75 cents per day

Country A (millions of people)       90 30   30

Country B (millions of people)       10 60   80

3. Please read the article “To Beat Back Poverty, Pay the Poor” and answer this and the next two questions. First, how do these “conditional cash transfer” programs affect the average poverty gap in the countries that use them? (5 points)

4. Next, what happened to the Lorenz curve and Gini coefficient in Brazil as a result of the introduction of the Bolsa Familia? Be sure to fully explain your answer. (5 points)

5. Finally, what is the likely impact of Mexico’s Oportunidades program on intergenerational mobility? Please explain. (5 points)

6. Please read the article “Hope Springs a Trap” and answer this and the next two questions. First, from the first four paragraphs in the article, name two specific clues that led Duflo and Bardhan to believe that it is indeed the absence of optimism that played a large role in keeping people trapped in poverty. (5 points)

7. What are two examples that illustrate that the poor have misconceptions (ideas that are contrary to economic findings in the area) about what they can do to escape the poverty trap? (5 points)

8. What is the nature of the law in India that has led to a striking degree of convergence between goals for sons and daughters? (5 points)

Hope Springs a Trap – The Economist

An absence of optimism plays a large role in keeping people trapped in poverty

THE idea that an infusion of hope can make a big difference to the lives of wretchedly poor people sounds like something dreamed up by a well-meaning activist or a tub-thumping politician. Yet this was the central thrust of a lecture at Harvard University on May 3rd by Esther Duflo, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology known for her data-driven analysis of poverty. Ms Duflo argued that the effects of some anti-poverty programmes go beyond the direct impact of the resources they provide. These programmes also make it possible for the very poor to hope for more than mere survival.

She and her colleagues evaluated a programme in the Indian state of West Bengal, where Bandhan, an Indian microfinance institution, worked with people who lived in extreme penury. They were reckoned to be unable to handle the demands of repaying a loan. Instead, Bandhan gave each of them a small productive asset—a cow, a couple of goats or some chickens. It also provided a small stipend to reduce the temptation to eat or sell the asset immediately, as well as weekly training sessions to teach them how to tend to animals and manage their households. Bandhan hoped that there would be a small increase in income from selling the products of the farm animals provided, and that people would become more adept at managing their own finances.

The results were far more dramatic. Well after the financial help and hand-holding had stopped, the families of those who had been randomly chosen for the Bandhan programme were eating 15% more, earning 20% more each month and skipping fewer meals than people in a comparison group. They were also saving a lot. The effects were so large and persistent that they could not be attributed to the direct effects of the grants: people could not have sold enough milk, eggs or meat to explain the income gains. Nor were they simply selling the assets (although some did).

So what could explain these outcomes? One clue came from the fact that recipients worked 28% more hours, mostly on activities not directly related to the assets they were given. Ms Duflo and her co-authors also found that the beneficiaries’ mental health improved dramatically: the programme had cut the rate of depression sharply. She argues that it provided these extremely poor people with the mental space to think about more than just scraping by. As well as finding more work in existing activities, like agricultural labour, they also started exploring new lines of work. Ms Duflo reckons that an absence of hope had helped keep these people in penury; Bandhan injected a dose of optimism. Ms Duflo is building on an old idea. Development economists have long surmised that some very poor people may remain trapped in poverty because even the largest investments they are able to make, whether eating a few more calories or working a bit harder on their minuscule businesses, are too small to make a big difference. So getting out of poverty seems to require a quantum leap—vastly more food, a modern machine, or an employee to mind the shop. As a result, they often forgo even the small incremental investments of which they are capable: a bit more fertiliser, some more schooling or a small amount of saving.

This hopelessness manifests itself in many ways. One is a sort of pathological conservatism, where people forgo even feasible things with potentially large benefits for fear of losing the little they already possess. For example, poor people stay in drought-hit villages when the city is just a bus ride away. An experiment in rural Bangladesh provided men with the bus fare to Dhaka at the beginning of the lean season, the period between planting and the next harvest when there is little to do except sit around. The offer of the bus fare, an amount which most of the men could have saved up to pay for themselves, led to a 22-percentage-point increase in the probability of migration. The money migrants sent back led their families’ consumption to soar. Having experienced the $100 increase in seasonal consumption per head that the $8 bus fare made possible, half of those offered the bus fare migrated again the next year, this time without the inducement.

People sometimes think they are in a poverty trap when they are not. Surveys in many countries show that poor parents often believe that a few years of schooling have almost no benefit; education is valuable only if you finish secondary school. So if they cannot ensure that their children can complete school, they tend to keep them out of the classroom altogether. And if they can pay for only one child to complete school, they often do so by avoiding any education for the children they think are less clever. Yet economists have found that each year of schooling adds a roughly similar amount to a person’s earning power: the more education, the better. Moreover, parents are very likely to misjudge their children’s skills. By putting all their investment in the child who they believe to be the brightest, they ensure that their other children never find out what they are good at. Assumed to have little potential, these children live down to their parents’ expectations.

The fuel of self-belief

Surprising things can often act as a spur to hope. A law in India set aside for women the elected post of head of the village council in a third of villages. Following up several years later, Ms Duflo found a clear effect on the education of girls. Previously parents and children had far more modest education and career goals for girls than for boys. Girls were expected to get much less schooling, stay at home and do the bidding of their in-laws. But a few years of exposure to a female village head had led to a striking degree of convergence between goals for sons and daughters. Their very existence seems to have expanded the girls’ sense of the possible beyond a life of domestic drudgery. An unexpected consequence, perhaps, but a profoundly hopeful one.

Correction: The programme with the ultra-poor in West Bengal evaluated by Ms Duflo was implemented by Bandhan, not BRAC, as we mistakenly wrote in the original version of this article. BRAC devised the original programme on which Bandhan’s was based.

To Beat Back Poverty, Pay the Poor – The New York Times

The city of Rio de Janeiro is infamous for the fact that one can look out from a precarious shack on a hill in a miserable favela and see practically into the window of a luxury high-rise condominium. Parts of Brazil look like southern California. Parts of it look like Haiti. Many countries display great wealth side by side with great poverty. But until recently, Brazil was the most unequal country in the world.

Today, however, Brazil’s level of economic inequality is dropping at a faster rate than that of almost any other country. Between 2003 and 2009, the income of poor Brazilians has grown seven times as much as the income of rich Brazilians. Poverty has fallen during that time from 22 percent of the population to 7 percent.

Contrast this with the United States, where from 1980 to 2005, more than four-fifths of the increase in Americans’ income went to the top 1 percent of earners. (see this great series in Slate by Timothy Noah on American inequality) Productivity among low and middle-income American workers increased, but their incomes did not. If current trends continue, the United States may soon be more unequal than Brazil.

Several factors contribute to Brazil’s astounding feat. But a major part of Brazil’s achievement is due to a single social program that is now transforming how countries all over the world help their poor.

The program, called Bolsa Familia (Family Grant) in Brazil, goes by different names in different places. In Mexico, where it first began on a national scale and has been equally successful at reducing poverty, it is Oportunidades. The generic term for the program is conditional cash transfers. The idea is to give regular payments to poor families, in the form of cash or electronic transfers into their bank accounts, if they meet certain requirements. The requirements vary, but many countries employ those used by Mexico: families must keep their children in school and go for regular medical checkups, and mom must attend workshops on subjects like nutrition or disease prevention. The payments almost always go to women, as they are the most likely to spend the money on their families. The elegant idea behind conditional cash transfers is to combat poverty today while breaking the cycle of poverty for tomorrow.

Most of our Fixes columns so far have been about successful-but-small ideas. They face a common challenge: how to make them work on a bigger scale. This one is different. Brazil is employing a version of an idea now in use in some 40 countries around the globe, one already successful on a staggeringly enormous scale. This is likely the most important government anti-poverty program the world has ever seen. It is worth looking at how it works, and why it has been able to help so many people.

In Mexico, Oportunidades today covers 5.8 million families, about 30 percent of the population. An Oportunidades family with a child in primary school and a child in middle school that meets all its responsibilities can get a total of about $123 a month in grants. Students can also get money for school supplies, and children who finish high school in a timely fashion get a one-time payment of $330.

Bolsa Familia, which has similar requirements, is even bigger. Brazil’s conditional cash transfer programs were begun before the government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, but he consolidated various programs and expanded it. It now covers about 50 million Brazilians, about a quarter of the country. It pays a monthly stipend of about $13 to poor families for each child 15 or younger who is attending school, up to three children. Families can get additional payments of $19 a month for each child of 16 or 17 still in school, up to two children. Families that live in extreme poverty get a basic benefit of about $40, with no conditions.

Do these sums seem heartbreakingly small? They are. But a family living in extreme poverty in Brazil doubles its income when it gets the basic benefit. It has long been clear that Bolsa Familia has reduced poverty in Brazil. But research has only recently revealed its role in enabling Brazil to reduce economic inequality.

The World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank are working with individual governments to spread these programs around the globe, providing technical help and loans. Conditional cash transfer programs are now found in 14 countries in Latin America and some 26 other countries, according to the World Bank. (One of the programs was in New York City — a small, privately-financed pilot program called Opportunity NYC. A preliminary evaluation showed mixed success, but it is too soon to draw conclusions.) Each program is tailored to local conditions. Some in Latin America, for example, emphasize nutrition. One in Tanzania is experimenting with conditioning payments on an entire community’s behavior. 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.

In Mexico today, malnutrition, anemia and stunting have dropped, as have incidences of childhood and adult illnesses. Maternal and infant deaths have been reduced. Contraceptive use in rural areas has risen and teen pregnancy has declined. But the most dramatic effects are visible in education. Children in Oportunidades repeat fewer grades and stay in school longer.

Child labor has dropped. In rural areas, the percentage of children entering middle school has risen 42 percent. High school inscription in rural areas has risen by a whopping 85 percent. The strongest effects on education are found in families where the mothers have the lowest schooling levels. Indigenous Mexicans have particularly benefited, staying in school longer. Bolsa Familia is having a similar impact in Brazil. One recent study found that it increases school attendance and advancement — particularly in the northeast, the region of Brazil where school attendance is lowest, and particularly for older girls, who are at greatest risk of dropping out. The study also found that Bolsa has improved child weight, vaccination rates and use of pre-natal care.

When I traveled in Mexico in 2008 to report on Oportunidades, I met family after family with a distinct before and after story. Parents whose work consisted of using a machete to cut grass had children who, thanks to Oportunidades, had finished high school and were now studying accounting or nursing. Some families had older children who were malnourished as youngsters, but younger children who had always been healthy because Oportunidades had arrived in time to help them eat better. In the city of Venustiano Carranza, in Mexico’s Puebla state, I met Hortensia Alvarez Montes, a 54-year-old widow whose only income came from taking in laundry. Her education stopped in sixth grade, as did that of her first three children. But then came Oportunidades, which kept her two youngest children in school. They were both finishing high school when I visited her. One of them told me she planned to attend college. Outside of Brazil and Mexico, conditional cash transfer programs are newer and smaller. Nevertheless, there is ample research showing that they, too, increase consumption, lower poverty, and increase school enrollment and use of health services.

If conditional cash transfer programs are to work properly, many more schools and health clinics are needed. But governments can’t always keep up with the demand — and sometimes they can only keep up by drastically reducing quality. If this is a problem for medium-income countries like Brazil and Mexico, imagine the challenge in Honduras or Tanzania. For skeptics who believe that social programs never work in poor countries and that most of what’s spent on them gets stolen, conditional cash transfer programs offer a convincing rebuttal. Here are programs that help the people who most need help, and do so with very little waste, corruption or political interference. Even tiny, one-village programs that succeed this well are cause for celebration. To do this on the scale that Mexico and Brazil have achieved is astounding.