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Author's ancestral home in the village of Jakhan.

Of Sun Gods and Solar Energy

1/6/17

My family’s ancestral home in the village of Jakhan in India’s western state of Rajasthan exemplifies the challenges and opportunities of facilitating energy access in India. Though Rajasthan is perhaps the most densely populated desert on the planet, near Jakhan the population is spread more thinly, and electrification has been slow in coming. The dreams of people such as my grandparents, who wished to see central electricity access arrive at their doorstep, were unfortunately not met in time. My grandfather filed an application to have a grid connection reach his home in the 1970s. The connection came three decades after his passing. Today, over 300 million people still lack access to reliable centralized electricity in this nation of 1.2 billion people.

Commitment to Development Index 2016

1/5/17

The Commitment to Development Index ranks 27 of the richest countries on their dedication to policies that benefit poorer nations. Finland takes first in 2016. The UK moves down three places to 9th while the United States moves up one to 20th. Switzerland takes last of 27.

Analytic Foundations: Measuring the Redistributive Impact of Taxes and Transfers - Working Paper 446

1/3/17
Ali Enami , Nora Lustig and Rodrigo Aranda

This paper provides a theoretical foundation for analyzing the redistributive effect of taxes and transfers for the case in which the ranking of individuals by pre-fiscal income remains unchanged. We show that in a world with more than a single fiscal instrument, the simple rule that progressive taxes or transfers are always equalizing not necessarily holds, and offer alternative rules that survive a theoretical scrutiny. In particular, we show that the sign of the marginal contribution unambiguously predicts whether a tax or a transfer is equalizing or not.

The Impact of Taxes and Social Spending on Inequality and Poverty in El Salvador - Working Paper 447

1/3/17
Margarita Beneke , Nora Lustig and José Andrés Oliva

We conducted a fiscal impact study to estimate the effect of taxes, social spending, and subsidies on inequality and poverty in El Salvador, using the methodology of the Commitment to Equity project. Taxes are progressive, but given their volume, their impact is limited. Direct transfers are concentrated on poor households, but their budget is small so their effect is limited; a significant portion of the subsidies goes to households in the upper income deciles, so although their budget is greater, their impact is low. The component that has the greatest effect on inequality is spending on education and health. Therefore, the impact of fiscal policy is limited and low when compared with other countries with a similar level of per capita income. There is room for improvement using current resources.

Why Increasing Female Migration from Gender-Unequal Countries Is a Win for Everyone

12/20/16

Available evidence points to a superior payoff to female migration from gender-unequal countries to more gender-equal countries for the migrant, the sending country, and recipient country alike. This suggests that a policy by relatively gender-equal countries to provide entry preference to female economic migrants from gender-unequal countries would combine development impact and economic self-interest.

The Impact of Anti-Money Laundering Regulation on Payment Flows: Evidence from SWIFT Data - Working Paper 445

12/20/16

Regulatory pressure on international banks to fight money laundering (ML) and terrorist financing (TF) increased substantially in the past decade. We find countries that have been added to a high-risk greylist face up to a 10% decline in the number of cross border payments received from other jurisdictions, but no change in the number sent. We also find that a greylisted country is more likely to see a decline in payments from other countries with weak AML/CFT institutions. We find limited evidence that these effects manifest in cross border trade or other flows. Given that countries that are placed on these lists tend to be poorer on average, these impacts are likely to be more strongly felt in developing countries.

The Use and Utility of US Government Approaches to Country Ownership: New Insights from Partner Countries

12/12/16

Over the last decade, the US government has repeatedly expressed its commitment to incorporating “country ownership” into the way it designs and delivers foreign assistance.  This paper draws upon perception-based data from government officials and donor staff in 126 developing countries to explore how development policymakers and practitioners evaluate US government efforts that promote (or hinder) country ownership and the extent to which these efforts are perceived as useful.  While the US government does pursue some approaches considered favorable for country ownership, practices that put countries more firmly in the driver’s seat are underutilized compared to their perceived utility.

An Agenda for Harmful Cultural Practices and Girls' Empowerment

12/12/16

Harmful cultural practices and norms—even the seemingly non-violent ones that consign girls to bear the brunt of household labor—have consequences for nutrition, health, educational achievement, sexual abuse, and child marriage. Accordingly, it is critical to develop a research agenda that places girls aged 0 to 10 at the center of policy to address harmful practices. Both as an issue of gender-based violence and as an impediment to girls reaching their potential, we need greater commitments to country-level data, informed and enforced legislative action, and innovative methods to challenging and shifting socially shared definitions of girlhood.

MCC Country Eligibility Predictions for FY2017

12/6/16

The last board meeting of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) under the Obama administration will take place on December 13, 2016. On the docket? Selecting which countries will be eligible for MCC assistance for fiscal year (FY) 2017. For the fourteenth year running, CGD’s Rethinking US Development Policy Initiative discusses the overarching issues that will impact the decisions and offers its predictions of which countries will be selected.

Internationally Comparable Mathematics Scores for Fourteen African Countries - Working Paper 444

12/2/16

Internationally comparable test scores play a central role in both research and policy debates on education. However, the main international testing regimes, such as PISA, TIMSS, or PIRLS, include very few low-income countries. For instance, most countries in Southern and Eastern Africa have opted instead for a regional assessment known as SACMEQ. This paper exploits an overlap between the SACMEQ and TIMSS tests—in both country coverage, and questions asked—to assess the feasibility of constructing global learning metrics by equating regional and international scales. I find that learning levels in this sample of African countries are consistently (a) low in absolute terms; (b) significantly lower than predicted by African per capita GDP levels; and (c) converging slowly, if at all, to the rest of the world during the 2000s. Creating test scores which are truly internationally comparable would be a global public good, requiring more concerted effort at the design stage.

A Global Offer for Learning (GOL): Based on Experiences with Paying for Results

11/28/16

Children in developing countries get lots of schooling, but they are not necessarily learning. To address this, countries need new forms of feedback, experimentation, and financing that conventional aid is ill-suited to provide. This paper reviews experiences with an unconventional aid modality—paying for results—as it could apply to learning. The paper explains how such a program could be implemented and accelerate institutional changes needed to improve student learning.

AidChoice: Give the People who Pay for Aid a Voice in Spending It

11/21/16

What if taxpayers could decide for themselves how some of the UK’s aid budget is spent? Allocating funding would let taxpayers engage meaningfully with development issues, potentially reinforcing support for tackling poverty and deprivation overseas. Competition for funding would give international development organisations an incentive to offer an explicit value proposition. This could catalyse a race to the top in becoming transparent, measuring impact, and delivering value-for-money. AidChoice, as set out below, would be revenue neutral, would not lower the UK’s overall spending on foreign aid (or the amount scored as ODA), and might generate modest but meaningful savings, all while increasing public support for development spending and improving accountability.

Nigeria Will Become Polio-Free: Challenges, Successes, and Lessons Learned for the Quest to Eradicate Polio

11/15/16
David Boyd , Alykhan Premji , Paige W. Sholar , Azfar Hossain , Kunal Potnis , Lisa Wanda , Jamal Edwards , Laura Winn and Lexia Chadwick

Despite no reported cases of polio in two years in Nigeria, on August 11, 2016, the WHO announced two new wild polio cases had been discovered in Northern Nigeria. While undoubtedly a setback, Nigeria has mobilized its immunization forces and will look to take heed of four key lessons learned during almost three decades of anti-polio efforts: 1) establishing and sustaining trust is critical to the success  of eradication campaigns; 2) frequent, independent monitoring and evaluation are key to tracking the progress of an intervention and making modifications; 3) holding all actors accountable is essential to pushing an intervention forward; and 4) contextualized health initiatives are key in fighting polio and other diseases. These lessons will reinforce a cohesive, multilateral strategy that builds on past successes to secure a polio-free Nigeria.

Is There a Goldilocks Solution? “Just Right” Promotion of Labor Mobility

11/15/16
Lant Pritchett and Rebekah Smith

The “just right” approach for the mobility of low-skill labor looks to avoid either “too hard”—expecting countries to make legally binding commitments to a global protocol—or “too soft”—no global mechanisms for reducing restrictions on labor mobility. We propose a “bundled” organization that works with existing bilateral labor agreements and partners as part of an organization capable of analysis and advocacy.

Cash on Delivery Aid for Energy

11/15/16

Energy is critical to human welfare, yet energy consumption in developing countries is extremely low relative to modern living standards. Conventional aid programs have invested in energy production with some success but also with many notable failures. This paper discusses how a distinctive approach to development aid—disbursing funds against improved outcomes—could make aid more effective in the energy sector. In particular, it explores the use of Cash on Delivery Aid (COD Aid) to resolve perennial difficulties encountered by conventional aid programs in energy sector development.

The Impact of Taxes, Transfers, and Subsidies on Inequality and Poverty in Uganda - Working Paper 443

11/10/16
Jon Jellema , Nora Lustig , Astrid Haas and Sebastian Wolf

This paper uses the 2012/13 Uganda National Household Survey to analyze the redistributive effectiveness and impact on poverty and inequality of Uganda’s revenue collection instruments and social spending programs. Fiscal policy—including many of its constituent tax and spending elements—is inequality-reducing in Uganda, but the reduction of inequality due to fiscal policy in Uganda is lower than other countries with similar levels of initial inequality, a result tied to low levels of spending in Uganda generally. The impact of fiscal policy on poverty is negligible, while the combination of very sparse coverage of direct transfer programs and nearly complete coverage of indirect tax instruments means that many poor households are net payers into, rather than net recipients from, the fiscal system. As Uganda looks ahead to increased revenues from taxation and concurrent investments in productive infrastructure, it should take care to protect the poorest households from further impoverishment from the fiscal system.

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