'In 1995, the Mexican peso crashed and the economy contracted by 6 percent. At the time, Santiago Levy, the deputy finance minister, realized that the country’s antipoverty programs were going to fail its poor. The programs were a hodgepodge of food subsidies, adopted in response to powerful food producers. They were inefficient because they targeted foods everyone ate, rich and poor. Some even targeted foods the poor don’t eat, such as bread – poor Mexicans eat tortillas.
Mr. Levy saw a looming disaster – but also an opportunity to build political support for an antipoverty program that worked. Stealthily, he organized a pilot project to test a new idea in Campeche, far away from the capital so it would draw little notice. He began a program to pay poor mothers to keep their children in school and take their kids to the health clinic. He compared the results to poverty figures in a group of similar villages without the program. It was a great success. Data in hand, he persuaded President Ernesto Zedillo to phase in the new program and phase out the food subsidies.
Oportunidades, formerly called Progresa, is now embraced by all parties in Mexico and, with financing from the World Bank, is helping virtually every poor family. It not only focuses antipoverty spending on those who really need it, it does so in a way that encourages families to break the cycle of poverty for their children.' (from this blog).
looks familiar? doesn't it look similar to what i had suggested a few months ago in this post ?
'why do they pay so little attention to the non-voting children in mahbubnagar as compared with the voters in mumbai? a simple dole of ,say, rupees five hundred a month (which is what, almost, the current bill assures) to rural parents who send their children to school would not only cost much less than what the current project would but also a. stop the migration and b. protect the rights of the children.would you call that charity? most of the subsidies and other giveaways intended for the poor are today cornered by the more privileged classes. why shouldn't the poor have their share? but that would not be elaborate enough for the wise men.'
that was actually a part of a long comment i had originally made here on a dilip d'souza article on the employment guarantee act (which i had reposted on this blog as an independent post). this idea had taken a hazy kind of shape in my mind around two years ago when i had started looking at poverty alleviation programmes in india a little closely. i had nursed serious doubts about their efficacy for more than a decade but..ordinary, well-meaning citizens in india don't usually question these programmes hard enough...and they usually let their hearts rule over their heads in these matters. but the nrega was a kind of last straw for me..because i knew, whatever the intentions behind it, it was going to miserably fail. but that wasn't why i primarily objected to it, there were other reasons...and chief among them was that it was a shortsighted program - it didn't address the problem of future poverty, because it ignores the causes of present poverty. worse - it takes money away from programs which would actually help the most in fighting future poverty - schools. funds for the nrega would mean that the much needed increase in the woefully inadequate funding schooling, and education in general in india receives..can be ruled out for a long time.the upa govt had promised to increase budgets for education upto 6% of gdp, as first prescribed by the kothari commission way back in the sixties. now, how can that happen? the twin objectives of my idea were to address both the problems of a.illiteracy b. poverty, in that order, because poverty can't be solved without solving the problem of illiteracy, in my view.
the idea, in a nutshell, was that the govt pays rural parents a certain allowance/dole/sum every month to encourage them to send their children to school. the design of the plan was simple: direct transfer of funds every month from delhi to every villager's doorstep. please read the post and the comments to get a better idea. my contention is that the idea has better chances of fighting leakage and corruption that plague most such schemes in india (because it is based on direct transfer of money from delhi to the beneficiaries...and does not, as annie of known turf and otherindia presumes in the comments, involve any other agency in this transaction).
now, i am pleasantly surprised to find that there are other people in the world, much more important people, endorsing a program that so closely resembles an idea that i'd thought up! the mexico program is now being touted as one of the most successful anti-poverty programs, alongside eight other great endeavours such as universal vaccination, de soto's ownership titles for the poor idea and microcredit etc., Read more about those eight programs on the Poverty & Growth Blog of the World Bank Institute here.