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Informational Constraints on Antipoverty Policies: Evidence for Africa

January 24, 2019

Kuala Lumpur World Bank-University of Malaya Joint Seminar

It has often been said that the world’s aggregate poverty gap—the total monetary amount by which all poor people fall below the poverty line—is modest when one uses poverty lines typical of low-income countries. The implication is sometimes drawn that only a modest sum of money is needed to eliminate global poverty—to bring all poor people up to the international poverty line. However, eliminating poverty may well be a lot harder than the size of the aggregate poverty gap might suggest.  Identifying who is poor and by how much is challenging. The poverty gap calculation could be way off the mark. The presentation will draw on the following two papers (with Caitlin Brown) that have tried to assess whether the data typically available and routinely used by policymakers in sub-Saharan Africa—the poorest region of the world by most measures—are adequate to reliably identify who is poor. It will be shown that even with a budget sufficient to eliminate poverty with full information, standard proxy-means tests do not bring the poverty rate below about three-quarters of its initial value. Nor does the optimal (poverty-minimizing) allocation of transfers based on the information typically available do much better. The prevailing methods are particularly deficient in reaching the poorest households. And even when poor households are reached, poor individuals are often missed. Indeed, roughly three-quarters of underweight women and undernourished children are not found in the poorest 20% of households, and around half are not found in the poorest 40%. Some potential improvements in current targeting methods are considered, as is a universal basic income as a policy option.

Download the paper

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  • Dominique van de Walle is a development economist specializing on poverty, social protection, impact evaluation and gender issues. She has authored dozens of papers in scholarly journals and three books on these topics. She spent close to 30 years at the World Bank, mainly in its research department, with stints in the Bank’s gender and social protection groups, and academic visits to the University of Toulouse and Paris School of Economics. She holds a Masters in Economics from the London School of Economics and a Ph. D. in economics from the Australian National University.  She is a Visiting Fellow at the Center for Global Development and is currently a visiting professor at the Ungku Aziz Centre for Development Studies at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur.

    Martin Ravallion holds the inaugural Edmond D. Villani Chair of Economics at Georgetown University. Prior to joining Georgetown in 2013 he was Director of the World Bank’s research department, the Development Research Group. He joined the Bank in 1988 and worked in almost all sectors and all regions over the following 24 years. Prior to joining the Bank, Martin was on the faculty of the Australian National University. He holds a Ph.D. in economics from the London School of Economics, and has taught economics at L.S.E., Oxford University, the Australian National University and Princeton University. Martin’s main research interests over the last 30 years have concerned poverty and policies for fighting it. He has advised numerous governments and international agencies on this topic, and he has written extensively on this and other subjects in economics, including six books and 250 papers in scholarly journals and edited volumes. His latest book, ''The Economics of Poverty: History, Measurement and Policy,'' was published by Oxford University Press in January 2016. Martin is the ex-President of the Society for the Study of Economic Inequality, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, a Non-Resident Fellow of the Center for Global Development and a Senior Fellow of the Bureau for Research in Economic Analysis of Development. Among various prizes and awards, in 2012 he was awarded the John Kenneth Galbraith Prize from the American Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, in 2016 he received a Frontiers of Knowledge Award from the BBVA Foundation, Madrid, and in 2018, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Economics by the University of Fribourg, Switzerland.

event details

  • when: Thursday, January 24, 2019; 12:30 -2:00PM
  • where:: World Bank Malaysia Office, Level 3, Sasana Kijang, No. 2, Jalan Dato’ Onn
  • rsvp: Kindly RSVP by Wednesday, January 23, 2019