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Biometrics, foreign aid, Africa, economics of resource-rich countries, growth and development, transition economies
Alan Gelb is a senior fellow and director of studies at the Center for Global Development. His recent research includes aid and development outcomes, the transition from planned to market economies, the development applications of biometric ID technology, and the special development challenges of resource-rich countries.
He was previously director of development policy at the World Bank and chief economist for the bank’s Africa region and staff director for the 1996 World Development Report “From Plan to Market.”
In 2013, our CGD colleagues Julia Clark and David Roodman designed a low-cost quantitative approach to ranking think tank performance. We applied their methodology in early 2015 to produce an updated ranking of US and international development think tanks on the basis of 2014 data. The rankings aim to provide a transparent and objective method of assessing the influence of select think tanks.
India has embarked on a program using biometric identification to enable a shift from blanket price-based energy subsidies to targeted compensation payments based on actual, individual energy purchases.
In 2013, our CGD colleagues Julia Clark and David Roodman designed a low-cost quantitative approach to rank US and international development think tanks by the strength of their public profile. Think tanks trade in ideas and ideas need to be noticed to be adopted. Thus, think tanks’ ability to garner public attention is likely to be a good marker of their influence and potential for impact.
The post-2015 development agenda is being shaped as we speak. The United Nations has recently released a report that synthesizes the full range of inputs received from various stakeholders. These inputs, including ones from the World Bank Group, are a substantive contribution to the intergovernmental negotiations in the lead up to the September 2015 Summit that will officially launch the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda.
India’s shift towards direct benefit transfers (DBTs) is on the fast track. According to official statements, in the 2015-16 fiscal year the central government deposited nearly $5 billion of subsidy and welfare payments directly into the bank accounts of 300 million beneficiaries. It has also set an ambitious target to transfer all payments to the Aadhaar-based biometric DBT platform by the end of 2017. This will surely be the greatest subsidy reform in the world, but we need more data to accurately evaluate its impact.
Aadhaar, the world’s largest biometric ID program, is at a crossroads. After a remarkable effort to enroll almost the entire Indian population of 1.25 billion in just over half a decade, its impact on privacy and distribution public benefits are being called into question.
These recent developments in identification, combined with rising mobile phone ownership, broadening Internet access, and innovative payment delivery mechanisms, can be harnessed to transform the way states implement poverty-reduction programs and improve the lives of their citizens. Digital payments promise faster, more transparent, and lower-cost delivery for existing cash-based government transfers, and can also transform the way governments deliver subsidies. In a new background paper, Dan Radcliffe reviews the evidence on the gains from digital payments and pinpoints four ways in which they can improve development outcomes.