Should we tell the Poor what to do?

The old bottom up vs top down question just wont go away. We have posted a few times on the design of poverty alleviation programs (click here to read what we had before). Yesterday I stumbled on a veritable goldmine of material on social assistance programs at IFPRI’s Blog World Hunger.  Click here and look at the entries below the blog.

So what do we know about poverty alleviation programs?

Both Naila Kabeer and William Easterly warn that we should not generalise when it comes to these kinds of programs. The success of the programs, argues Easterly, is dependent on a multitude of social and historical factors that cannot be replicated in different societies. He doesn’t tell us much about how to initiate poverty programs, but recommends lots of monitoring and evaluation and support to programs that are already working.

Despite Easterly’s caution, it does seem that there is a growing consensus about the value of making cash assistance conditional on participation in other government programs, services or activities.  Holmes and Jackson argue for making cash transfers conditional on the construction of social infrastructure. The lauded Opportunidades programme in Mexico links grants to participation in health, nutrition and education services.

What do you think? Should we direct the behaviour of the poor through conditionalities? Or should we leave them free to make their own decisions?

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