Research

Review Article

Understanding the Expansion of Latin America’s New Social Welfare Regimes (Forthcoming, Journal of Comparative Politics)

Abstract:

Latin American countries have been characterized as being truncated welfare states with high levels of clientelist and informal provision. However, the recent expansion of social welfare programs targeted at the poor, such as Prospera in Mexico and Bolsa Família in Brazil, have brought millions of previously excluded citizens access to social welfare. This review article examines three new books analyzing the political dynamics underpinning variations in Latin American social welfare regimes. The article pays attention to how the transition to democracy and increased political competition has created the institutional context for the expansion of a variety of social welfare programs targeted at previously excluded citizens. The new literature makes several important theoretical contributions to the study of distributive politics in new democracies. It moves beyond regime type and party ideology and instead focuses on the nature of domestic political institutions and variation in citizen-state linkages within Latin American electoral democracies. Countries with robust political competition and denser social ties to constituents have seen the most robust social welfare expansion and non-partisan targeting that have undermined clientelist linkages. In low income and single party dominated settings, however, the political incentives for informal or clientelist welfare provision remain significant. Latin America’s experience of social welfare expansion offers important insights for scholars studying social welfare provision in other countries in the Global South.

Download the review article here

Working Papers:

Being Seen by the State: Cash Transfers and Women’s Political Participation in Pakistan

Abstract:

Can cash transfer programs provide alternative pathways for citizens to exercise greater democratic rights in highly unequal low-income settings? What impacts do these poverty targeted cash transfers have for citizens and their families who are engaging with state services and claiming rights for the first time? This paper seeks to address these questions by analyzing the citizenship consequences of Pakistan’s Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), one of the largest unconditional cash transfer programs targeted at women in the Global South. BISP is the first social policy program in Pakistan to use a proxy means test (PMT) to select beneficiaries and exclusively make eligible women the recipients of the cash transfer. The paper uses a regression discontinuity identification strategy, to compare BISP beneficiaries and non-beneficiaries close to program’s eligibility cutoff. The paper present findings from an original citizen survey of 2254 respondents in the provinces of Punjab and Sindh, as well as semi- structured interviews and focus groups conducted with BISP beneficiaries and their families. In addition to political rights such as voting, other outcomes analyzed include civic engagement and attitudes towards state institutions and services.

Media Mentions of Research:

Democratic Openings and the Political Origins of Social Policy Expansion in Pakistan

Abstract:

Under what political conditions do pro-poor social welfare programs emerge in new democracies where citizen-state ties are weak? How do social welfare programs with partisan targeting move towards programmatic provision and become resilient overtime? This paper addresses these questions by analyzing the political origin of Pakistan’s flagship safety net: The Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), one of the largest cash transfer programs targeted exclusively at women in the Global South. The case study of BISP is particularly insightful to address these questions, as the program emerged under conditions of weak democracy and high levels of political unrest in 2008 and expanded under two electoral cycles (2013 and 2018). Although BISP initially gave politicians discretion over selection of beneficiaries, the program subsequently implemented a technocratic method of targeting that significantly reduced patronage and rapidly expanded social welfare to millions of Pakistan’s poorest and most excluded citizens. I use a process tracing approach analyzing key informant interviews with politicians, bureaucrats and technocrats, as well as secondary data such as social expenditure data, policy reports and party manifestos to explain the emergence and transformation in the design of BISP over time. The paper argues that a democratic opening and political competition created the necessary political conditions for social policy expansion in Pakistan. The need for both domestic and international legitimacy provide for a weak elected government explain BISP’s shift towards a technocratic design that ended political discretion and enabled program resilience in subsequent electoral cycles. This paper aims to provide new theoretical insights on the political conditions that shape programmatic social policy design and expansion in new democracies in the Global South.

Poverty Targeted Cash Transfers & Attitudes Towards Redistributive Policies

with Matteo Iudice, PhD Candidate in Economics, Brown University.

Abstract:

Does long-term exposure to a cash transfer program targeted at low-income women change their preferences for redistribution? Do cash transfer programs, implemented in high poverty settings, crowd out preferences for traditional types of welfare such as public schools and hospitals? We study these questions by analyzing the impacts of Pakistan's Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), one of the largest unconditional cash transfer programs targeted at women. We use a regression discontinuity design to estimate the impacts of the BISP cash transfer on women's attitudes towards a range of redistributive policies. Compatible with theories of redistribution, we find that female recipients of the cash transfer program reduce their preferences for redistributive social policies. However, we provide evidence that this shift in preferences is not the result of an income effect. We propose a mechanism that draws attention to variation in women's intra-household agency and we suggest that, in households in which women's agency is not challenged by senior household members, female beneficiaries see greater utility of a cash transfers compared to traditional welfare provision.

Pre-Analysis Plan: http://egap.org/registration/6083