Is a goat given the same as a goat earned?

The West Coast’s most infamous group of African political economists meets this week, and I have to miss the meeting due to my easterly movement of late. The papers, available here, include some superb economics and political science job market papers.

Of special note, Pamela Jakiela introduces experimental economics to western Kenya and finds a different set of preferences than in the US for rewarding hard work and helpful actions and punishing uncooperative ones.

Underlying her experiments are potential differences in how people feel obligated to share money earned versus money given, and conversely, how others in your playing group conceive of your obligation to share money won versus money earned.

The cross-cultural differences in such norms are a potentially important determinant of development. Social norms of reciprocity that helped insure individuals against bad crops and other shocks in pre-industrial times are slow to change, and could inhibit the development of industry to the extent that individual capital accumulation becomes more difficult. (This is an important hypothesis waiting to be explored.)

The difference between money earned versus money given has another important application in humanitarian and development aid. Last week I was speaking with a woman heading the Norwegian Refugee Council’s development work in northern Uganda. She’s having much more difficulty than she expected helping to restock the all-but depleted livestock in northern Uganda.
Pastoral livelihoods were essential in pre-war Acholiland, and NRC has been giving the poorest young men and women goats to begin breeding and selling. Likewise, a government program has been providing tens of thousands of cattle, pigs and goats across the north to vulnerable groups of people.

Apparently, however, people have been taking very poor care of these given goats. This could reflect a lack of skills and experience in livestock-rearing (the most popular explanation), but people have only been displaced for four years, and I have a hard time believing that they’ve forgotten how to care for a goat. Even this city boy knows the basics.

I think it would be interesting to look at the difference between a goat given and a goat earned. This would be a fairly straightforward development project to set up experimentally. The results speaks to a much larger debate about the way humanitarian and development aid is designed. This is definitely an idea to follow up with NRC, and a way to finally coax Pam into abandoning Busia and coming to work on northern Uganda.

The potential paper titles alone make the idea worthwhile.