Brazil’s Bolsa Familia is widely credited with lifting more than 20 million people out of extreme poverty, making it a global model for anti-poverty initiatives. Developed as part of a broader theory of equitable development, it serves as the basis for ongoing efforts to expand the social welfare system for the country’s poor and working class.

In a 2017 book, economist LENA LAVINAS takes a critical approach to Brazilian social policy. Examining the relationship between social policy and financial markets, Levinas argues that, despite its successes, the strategy of “social developmentalism” in Brazil unwittingly entrenched both unequal growth and the stagnation of social protection.

From the book:

“The twenty-first century seemed poised to pluck Brazil from its history of underdevelopment. After suffering through two decades (1980–2003) of low growth and considerable macroeconomic instability, Brazil—in step with the rest of Latin America—was ready to begin a series of rosy years. In the new developmental strategy, the missing link on the way to social cohesion, so the argument went, would emerge with the advent of mass consumption. In Brazil, as in the rest of Latin America, the core impediment to the expansion of a mass consumption society resided (above all else) in the absence of mechanisms for boosting consumption in the context of low productivity and the persistent oversupply of labor.

Performance in terms of the provision of public facilities has not tracked remotely close to the vitality of the market. It does, however, reveal welfare inequities that the market obscures. Through this prism, the upward social mobility observed in Brazil in the years spanning 2003–2014 failed to even come close to promoting a true expansion of the country’s middle classes. Social policy served as collateral to access financial markets through credit. In Brazil, the market has universalized access to color TVs and fridges among those in the lowest income quintile. Treated water, however, to say nothing of adequate sanitation, remains a luxury, the province of few.”

Link to the publisher’s page.

  • A 2018 by Lavinas details one of the book’s arguments—”the collateralization of social policy.” Link. And a 2013 paper by Lavinas examines the broad adoption of conditional cash transfer schemes throughout Latin America. Link.
  • In a 2014 paper, Michael McCarthy examines union attempts to control pension fund investment. Link. Another paper by Natascha van der Zwan on the financial politics of occupational pensions. Link. See also: McCarthy’s book Dismantling Solidarity, on these same themes. Link.
  • Marie Gottschalk’s book The Shadow Welfare State examines the American “private-sector safety net.” Link. See also: Frank R. Dobbin’s 1992 paper “The Origins of Private Social Insurance: Public Policy and Fringe Benefits in America, 1920-1950.” Link.


Economics of Discrimination

Cléo Chassonnery-Zaïgouche is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Cambridge. Her research examines the history of economic expertise, particularly as it relates to categories of discrimination. In a forthcoming article, she analyzes published legal decisions to examine “why and how economists entered the courtrooms as expert witnesses in employment discrimination cases in the US.”

From the paper:

“From the 1970s until the 1980s, multiple regression analysis (MRA) was economists’ primary tool for measuring discrimination. It did so by decomposing the observed differences in mean economic outcomes (wages, promotion rates) between two demographic groups (women and men, minority and majority) into a portion explained by mean differences in human capital characteristics (such as education or experience) and an unexplained residual. This residual was attributed to discriminatory practices. This article describes how the use of MRA was received in U.S. courtrooms and how economists made sense of judges’ and lawyers’ understanding of their practices. More specifically, it seeks to unpack how, over fifteen years, judges’ reactions evolved from blunt dismissal to widespread and largely unchallenged use. By the early 1980s, the use of MRA was considered standard practice in employment discrimination litigation.”

Link to the pre-print, link to Chassonnery-Zaïgouche’s website.

Each week we highlight great work from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Have you read any excellent research recently that you’d like to see shared here? Send it our way:

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  • “Market power in higher education is an important and under-studied phenomenon. Concentration is increasing, and so are prices. The one may have something to do with the other.” Brand new research led by JFI’s Laura Beamer and Marshall Steinbaum, with Francis Tseng and Eddie Nilaj. Link to the analysis, link to the mapping tool.
  • This week, Robert Smith announced the launch of the Student Freedom Initiative (SFI), a multi-billion dollar nonprofit fund to finance the educations of students at HBCUs. JFI is providing program design, analytics, and research for the new initiative. See our website and press release for more information, and Time Magazine for an announcement of the initiative.
  • In the NYT, coverage of a new study by Zach Parolin, Megan Curran and Chris Wimer, on the CARES Act and poverty. Link to the article, link to a Twitter thread on the findings. Stay tuned to the Phenomenal World for further elaboration next week.
  • “We expose the central importance of portfolio composition and asset prices for wealth dynamics in postwar America. Middle-class portfolios are dominated by housing, while rich households predominantly own equity.” From 2018, Moritz Kuhn, Moritz Schularick, and Ulrike I. Steins on US inequality from 1949-2016. Link.
  • The social safety net in the wake of Covid-19.” By Hillary Hoynes et al. Link.
  • “In an historically unprecedented configuration, this emerging asset manager capitalism is dominated by shareholders that are fully diversified ‘universal owners,’ while lacking direct economic interest in the performance of portfolio companies.” Benjamin Braun maps changes in the investment chain and their implications for theories of corporate governance. Link.
  • “A large issuance of SDRs is an easy and effective way to provide a major infusion of financial support to the countries that most need it.” Alexander Main, Mark Weisbrot, and Didier Jacobs with a new report on IMF Special Drawing Rights. Link.
  • Zhiwei Zhao, David Walters, and Desai Shan draw on 157 interviews with seafarers and managers in Chinese ship crewing agencies to examine “Impediments to free movement of Chinese seafarers in the maritime labour market.” Link.
  • At Berkeley’s Labor Center, Adam Seth Litwin analyzes technological change in healthcare delivery: “The choices we make now can lead us in one of two directions: either the benefits of technological change will be shared among patients, providers, and health care workers alike, or, technology will be deployed primarily to increase returns for atomized actors, and to reduce staffing and increase micromanagement of workers.” Link.
  • Ariell Zimran studies “the impact of transportation on health in the rural United States, 1820–1847,” finding: “transportation affected health by increasing population density, leading to a worse epidemiological environment.” Link.
  • “We study the effects on incarceration when prisoners are used primarily as a source of labor using evidence from British colonial Nigeria. We digitized sixty-five years of archival records on prisons from 1920 to 1995 and provide new estimates on the value of prison labor and the effects of labor demand shocks on incarceration. We find that prison labor was economically valuable to the colonial regime, making up a significant share of colonial public works expenditure. Positive economic shocks increased incarceration rates over the colonial period. This result is reversed in the postcolonial period, where prison labor is not a notable feature of state public finance. We document a significant reduction in contemporary trust in legal institutions, like police, in areas with high historic exposure to colonial imprisonment. The resulting reduction in trust is specific to legal institutions today.” Belinda Archibong and Nonso Obikili, “The Price of Prisons and the Lasting Effects of Incarceration.” Link.

Each week we highlight research from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Send us recommendations:

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