IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis at Innovations for Poverty Action.

  • Electronic cash payments directly to recipient accounts are thought to help reduce opportunities for corruption. An IPA study in India found moving government payments to electronic systems reduced leakage, and the government of India has switched its fuel subsidies to electronic cash transfers into free bank accounts for the poor.
  • However, the Wall Street Journal reports that this can exacerbate the problems for the poor, who (according to the story) are still being asked for bribes they can’t afford to open the new bank accounts, and without access to the fuel subsidy cash, prices have gone up for them.
  • Electronic cash systems are also susceptible to fraud and collusion among employees, as CGAP explains happened in Uganda and Rwanda. More worrying is that employees in Uganda with a few keystrokes created new e-money, not backed by real currency (wait for the gold standard folks to run with this). GiveDirectly also reported finding fraud by employees in Uganda last fall.
  • The New York Times explains that just measuring deaths can be misleading for health policy, because the death of a 30 year-old represents more life lost than that of a 90 year-old. Mortality also doesn’t account for the burden of diseases that leave people alive but disabled, hence the economist-preferred disability-adjusted life year, or DALY. A 2012 Lancet paper found:

    lung cancer kills about 200,000 more people than road injuries annually. But measured by DALYs, road injuries are almost two and a half times worse for humanity. That’s because most fatal victims of lung cancer are in their 60s, 70s and 80s, while those most likely to die of road injury are in their 20s and 30s — and road injuries cause almost 40 times more disabilities. If you are an international policy maker or aid agency choosing how much to invest in road safety relative to antismoking campaigns, that’s vital information.

It turns out when you start using DALYs to also factor in disability, major depressive disorder and lower back pain become among the largest public health problems in the US.

  • Justin Sandefur writes in the Washington Post Monkey Cage blog that Tanzania’s parliament has “allegedly” (because nobody has seen the text) passed a bill to criminalize release of statistics not approved by the government (h/t Erin L).
  • Your bonus: The guys from NPR’s Planet Money tried a bunch of economics jokes at a New York comedy club. Results illustrate:
    1) What makes perfect sense to economists doesn’t necessarily resonate with the general public.
    2) The stand-up economist will probably be welcome to his 100% market share for the foreseeable future.