Possibly the most controversial recent development endeavor is one with the most minimalist design – “just giving money to poor people.” Unconditional cash transfers, said to be less expensive and less paternalistic than in-kind aid or conditional payments, have gained wide exposure and generated many questions. What will the recipients buy with this cash? Surely they know better how to improve their own lives than aid officials do? Will the cash make a meaningful difference? Will it have a bigger (or more lasting) impact than other ways to help? Can one forget that an unconditional handout is still a handout?
To date, the poor who received money under the programs have not been wasting it. They did not become worse off in the short run after their (usually mobile) wallets got heavier. Yet on most other questions, the debate is ongoing.
On December 8th, 2014, the NYU Wagner Financial Access Initiative will co-host a discussion on this trend between academics and the founders of GiveDirectly – an unconditional cash transfer NGO. More information and registration are available here.