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The 2020 Public Services Trust Blog

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

the condition of conditionality

By Henry Kippin

Interesting contrast in a couple of news stories coming from the states in the last few days.  On the one hand, portents in the Guardian of a difficult 2 years for President Obama in the face of a Republican controlled Congress.  On the other, a piece in the New York Times on falling inequality in Brazil.  The articles are interesting in themselves.  But something else seems striking.  For many new Republicans (some Tea Party affiliated), the idea of government spending people’s money – in the form of social security, socialized healthcare, sheer government profligacy etc – is abhorrent.  On one level, this is protest against conditionality – that the public is free to earn, on the condition that some of their cash is held back to spend on the ‘public good’.

The NYT article is about the Bosa Familia initiative in Brazil – which aims to reduce poverty through direct cash transfers to the poor:

“The idea is to give regular payments to poor families, in the form of cash or electronic transfers into their bank accounts, if they meet certain requirements.  The requirements vary, but many countries employ those used by Mexico: families must keep their children in school and go for regular medical checkups, and mom must attend workshops on subjects like nutrition or disease prevention.  The payments almost always go to women, as they are the most likely to spend the money on their families.  The elegant idea behind conditional cash transfers is to combat poverty today while breaking the cycle of poverty for tomorrow.”

Plenty has been written in the international development field on the pluses and minuses of this approach (see here for example), but it seems to be working in Brazil. Similar schemes are up and running in Mexico and Tanzania.  As the article says, ‘if current trends continue, the United States may soon be more unequal than Brazil.’

So what is the relationship between the two articles?  On the one hand, they both show the politics of conditionality in different lights.  The public seems far more willing to impose conditions on the poor, or those who would ‘squander’ the resources given to them (cf perpetual benefit cheats exposes in the UK), than accept conditions on high earnings (wrangling over bankers pay, for example?).  The public are more than willing to impose conditionalities on the behavior of government.  This is a good thing.  But those affiliated to the Tea Party seem less willing to contemplate much conditionality in their own behavior and spending.  Sometimes this is a good thing, too.  But as Matthew Taylor alluded to recently, (and an Economist piece supports), citizens seeing themselves as the ‘passive victims of leadership’ without a sense of its responsibility and compromise is a pretty unsustainable mix.

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Posted by Henry Kippin at 10:33 am
Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Staying in or Pulling Out?

By Henry Kippin

There’s a typically reflective piece in the FT this morning from Martin Wolf, pulling out his key themes from the World Economic Forum in Davos.  Strangely, I wasn’t invited this year, so I will have to take his word for it…

The article considers the short and the long term challenges for the global economy, and the killer question of if and when to withdraw fiscal stimulus and start cutting public spending.  The question is a global one, but is utterly relevant to our own election campaign. 


Labour accuse the Tories of wanting to ‘strangle the recovery at birth’.  The Tories accuse Labour of ignoring the ‘great bulk’ of the UK’s structural deficit.  There are risks to both strategies, but Wolf also points to the longer term challenges of financial sector reform and a rebalancing of the global economy. 

What interested me was his perspective on leadership and consensus.  An ‘impressive ability to deal with the crisis’ was shown, but now we are back to the push and pull of everyday politics, it may be much harder to generate the kind of global consensus and willingness to work together that pulled us out of the crash.    

Speaking of which, there is an interesting article in this weeks New Yorker (which can be read online) about the new Tea Party movement in the US.  Really fascinating to see how a disgust with mainstream politics (and mostly with the ‘liberal’ elite) has led to such an organised, collective set of protest movements.  This is definitely not a coalition that would make many moderates or Obama supporters (or indeed me) feel comfortable, but its fascinating to see how grass roots mobilisation is impacting on formal US politics.

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Posted by Henry Kippin at 10:18 am

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