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Good News from Pakistan

Welfare schemes in corrupt countries rarely operate as advertised. Politicians steal money meant to go to the poor, or divert it to party supporters. But one program seems to be working in Pakistan, and that’s very good news. From the AP:

The Benazir Income Support Programme is modeled on similar efforts in Africa and South America, part of a quiet revolution in the way countries and development agencies are helping the poor. Initial concerns that recipients would fritter away the money have proven unfounded, and giving cash is now accepted as a vital and cost-effective aid tool. . . .

When a woman is called, she goes to a room where her identity is checked against an electronic database and her thumb print taken electronically. A bank employee then gives her the card — and a crash course in how to use it — before she returns to her village.

As they do elsewhere in the world, women in Pakistan must receive the money on behalf of their families because research shows they spend it more responsibly than men do. They must also first obtain a valid identity card to be eligible. Both requirements have been credited with pushing women, discriminated against in Pakistan, a little into the mainstream.

Cash handouts don’t solve poverty, but this program is playing a part in addressing Pakistan’s poverty and inequality, and even political corruption.

Pakistan could get richer and happier if it looked around at countries doing better with poverty problems, or poverty programs that work elsewhere. This program is modeled on initiatives that have been successful in other places, like Latin America. There are plenty of other places where initiatives to educate rural women and girls and improve their access to health information have had important results. Clearly, Pakistan can benefit by looking around the world to see what other programs it could adopt.

Borrowing good ideas from abroad might do more than help local development and poverty programs. Take war, for example. France and Germany put decades of war and rivalry behind them—even though one of them had to make large territorial concessions. Now France and Germany are much better off than before and the people of Alsace Lorraine are happy and free.

This kind of peace in South Asia seems unlikely now; Pakistan would rather nourish a bitter grudge than put the sorry past behind it to start building a better future. But in the long run, who knows? People once said that France and Germany could never agree.

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  • alex scipio

    Pakistan could get richer and happier by throwing-out their government and religion and adopting the Constitution of the US…..

    The Constitution isn’t perfect, but it’s better than what the US has now… and, when followed, led to the wealthiest nation on earth…

    Just a thought.

  • Daniel M. Ryan

    I don’t mean to be the house cuss, but how long has that program (and those Latin American ones) been put in place?

    Canada’s government-provided health care system worked well at first, largely because of cultural lags that kept costs down. Back in the olden days, as social democrats realized, the costs were kept down because of the shame factor. A person wouldn’t go to the doctor unless it was serious because (s)he knew that the taxpayers were picking up the tab. It’s not in the Canadian psyche to want to be a burden, so people shunned the doctor even though they had every right to go whenever they pleased.

    Until those cultural lags began to disappear…

    Nowadays, health care costs are bloated up by this attitude: “I pay lots of taxes, so I’m just getting what I paid for.” Even if the paid-for part collectively exceeds the tax take by a rather large margin. This shift, as well as the innovations-at-any-cost steeplechase that comes with any third party payer system, is making the Canadian health care budget groan.

    It was the same story with America’s AFDC. For its first thirty or so years, it was a program that benefitted primarily widows and orphans: just as advertised. A cultural lag in the motherhood department was responsible. But once that cultural lag eroded, Americans got the mess that AFDC turned into.

    If there’s any general rule in these tales of budgetary woe, it’s that cultural lags keep the effects predicted by public-choice economics at bay for about a generation or so. This rule of thumb seens to be more general than with welfare programs: for example, common stocks weren’t popular until about thirty years after the market bottomed in 1933. No need to explain that cultural lag…

  • Xuyee

    Is it too impolite to state the obvious difference between the France/Germany reconciliation and the Pakistan/India rivalry? Christianity, which ultimately demands sacrificial, unconditional forgiveness is great for peacemaking and healing of old rivalries. In practice it is not always so, but often is. In addition, Christian society has much more self-criticism and pacificism.

    Contrast this with Islam which still is sore about an 800 year old series of wars which they provoked and eventually won. For their own sake, I desperately desire a spirit of forgiveness, forbearance, and self-awareness among Muslim peoples, but I don’t see much evidence of this at this point in history.

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