From the comments, on UID

This is concerning the forthcoming Indian attempt to register individuals through unique eye scans and implement more cash transfers:

The domestic debate in India has largely been around :

1) This is just a sop before elections, a kind of brazen legitimised bribery. 2) The welfare architecture will not simply be migrated, it will be expanded. 3) Is conditionality critical to success? There remains no clear method to establish conditionality. 4) Identification of deserving families remains the problem. Until that is solved, nothing changes. 5) This is basically a turf war between ministeries and the previous operational/financial failures of the UID program are being hidden through the hasty implementation being planned now. 6) Getting in-kind subsidised goods through regular intervals during a month is superior cash flow management for a poor family than a lump-sum cash transfer at the end of the month

All the criticisms could be partially true. But the operational costs of the welfare delivery infrastructure will surely go down. Food and fertilizer have not yet been shifted – too politically sensitive – but amazingly, fuel has been. The biggest no-distortion gain is likely to come from there – the consumption of kerosene will most likely take a massive beating. It reduced by about 90% in a pilot.

The other corollary benefit – of using an Aadhar card as a means of establishing identity and for KYC norms in banks – is also absolutely tremendous.

It is indeed a top 5 most important economic policy issue in the world. But India is generally a low-trust society and in particular this gov’t is distrusted in most policy circles. Hence the rabid skepticism all around. I tend to be a lot more optimistic than that.

The great public choice question is – will they ever manage to bring food under this? For one, the PDS system was showing signs of an organic improvement. Second, the popular imagination has always conceived of the ‘man of the house’ frittering away hard earned money on country liquor if the woman of the house is not given grains directly. Third, giving away PDS distributorships has been an effective method of giving favours to those who the dirty work for national politicans at local levels – it is perhaps the longest running and biggest scam in India.

If they actually conclude that the greater ease for a poor family will convert into more votes than the losses they might take on the previous three fronts, it would be absolutely amazing. My sense is, like most great policy decisions, this will go through simply because it’s an idea whose ‘time has come’, and we will invent post-facto justifications of how it was politically rational to go through with this.

That is from Ritwik, who started off his comment with this sentence:

Privacy is actually a non-issue for most Indians.

Here is a good survey of what we know about cash transfers.


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