Fifteen years after the Global Financial Crisis: Recessions and Business Cycles in the History of Economic Thought

The rise of cash transfers and the demise of development economics

Zamora Daniel, Université Libre de Bruxelles
Jäger Anton, KULeuven

Over the last thirty years, cash transfers have become increasingly popular as a tool for poverty alleviation in the global south. Following the “lost decade” of the structural adjustment programs in 80s, countries like Mexico, Brazil or South Africa implemented ambitious conditional cash transfers (CCT) with significant effects on poverty alleviation. In the midst of what development economists Armando Barrientos and David Hulme called a “quiet revolution”, Basic Income slowly found its way within the development community. Fuelled by Randomized Control Trials (RCT) in countries like Namibia, Kenya or Uganda, the proposal is now seriously considered by international institutions such as the UN, the IMF, the ILO, or the World Bank. Such success was, however, far from a straight line. From Guy Standing’s failed attempt to promote the idea in South Africa just after the fall of the Apartheid to the pilots conducted by the Silicon Valley funded Give Directly in Keyna, it took more than two decades for UBI to be seen as a serious tool for development. Our contribution will therefore offer a historical contextualization of such success. It was only through the gradual displacement of the conceptions of development focused on state-led industrialization and post-war full employment that the idea of a ‘transfer state’ became more appealing. In a Global South increasingly unable or unwilling to casualize labor, direct investment or socialize resources, this new cash nexus reinvented development outside the state-centred framework set up by post-colonial thinkers, Marxists, and modernization theorists alike. In the place of industrial policy and economic independence from northern metropoles, development was slowly redefined as a commitment to guaranteeing to everyone, within market exchanges, a floor of income. Along the way, however, the very definition of ‘development’ began to indelibly change.

Area: Eshet Conference

Keywords: development, cash transfers, poverty

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