Chris Blattman

New York imports an anti-poverty program from Mexico

If conditional cash transfers worked for Mexico

In April the city published initial results of the trial, which is the largest-ever controlled test of conditional cash transfers in the United States.

There have been some notable successes: Only 43 percent of families had a bank account when they enrolled in the program; now over 90 percent of the families have accounts, a requirement for receiving the payments. And families have been very successful at earning the rewards for annual doctor’s visits ($200 per family member) and good school attendance in the lower grades ($50 per child every two months).

Not everyone is pleased:

“Opportunity NYC borders on offensive — the idea that a person can be bribed into doing better in school or being a better parent,” says Mark Winston Griffith, executive director of the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy in New York City.

“It sort of suggests that poverty is a lifestyle choice, that somehow if we’re just given a nudge, that we can choose not to be in this condition, or choose for our children to do better in school, or choose as parents to provide better child care. It comes out of the idea that poor people are almost sort of culturally and inherently dysfunctional. Not because of structural circumstances but because of their own personal failings.”

I can understand this reaction, but it misses the point. My reading of the research: we are all inherently dysfunctional, and structural circumstances push some of us to personal failings. The idea that something as small as a nudge can help many get back on track is a testament to the inherent functionality of those who are poor.

Ariel Fiszbein and Norbert Schady at the World Bank have a new volume (free to download) on the evidence so far for CCT programs internationally.

Read the full article on Opportunity NYC in American Prospect.

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