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The principles of targeting


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  • Besley, Timothy
  • Kanbur, Ravi


In response to calls for finer targeting of spending to alleviate poverty in developing countries, this paper discusses the principles of targeting. The ideal solution is that all transfers go to the poor. However, this is unrealizable because of three factors: (a) the costs of administration and data collection; (b) individual responses and incentive effects; and (c) considerations of political economy. The best strategy will probably lie somewhere between the two extremes - the ideal solution and universal intervention - mediated by these three considerations. Two types of targeting, although short of the ideal may be useful in certain contexts. With statistical targeting (using indicators), programs target key indicators such as a region, occupation, or the crops grown. Self-targeting uses differences in needs, tastes, or incomes as a device for achieving self-selection by only the poor into poverty alleviation programs. Real progress in understanding how targeting works best can be made only through country specific research that quantifies the costs and benefits of targeting using data that has increasingly become available for many developing countries - and research that is sensitive to the political realities of reform.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by The World Bank in its series Policy Research Working Paper Series with number 385.

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Date of creation: 31 Mar 1990
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:385

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Keywords: Safety Nets and Transfers; Services&Transfers to Poor; Rural Poverty Reduction; Poverty Monitoring&Analysis; Environmental Economics&Policies;


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Cited by:
  1. Gelkha Buitrago & Werner Güth & M. Vittoria Levati, 2006. "Does anticipated aid create the need it wants to avoid? An experimental investigation," Papers on Strategic Interaction, Max Planck Institute of Economics, Strategic Interaction Group 2006-24, Max Planck Institute of Economics, Strategic Interaction Group.
  2. World Bank, 2002. "Sri Lanka : Poverty Assessment," World Bank Other Operational Studies 15387, The World Bank.
  3. Bhaskar Dutta & Bharat Ramaswami, 2002. "Reforming food subsidy scheme: Estimating the gains from self-targetting in India," Indian Statistical Institute, Planning Unit, New Delhi Discussion Papers, Indian Statistical Institute, New Delhi, India 02-09, Indian Statistical Institute, New Delhi, India.
  4. Lucas Ronconi & Juan Sanguinetti & Sandra Fachelli & Virginia Casazza & Ignacio Franceschelli, 2006. "Poverty and Employability Effects of Workfare Programs in Argentina," Working Papers PMMA, PEP-PMMA 2006-14, PEP-PMMA.
  5. Stefan Dercon & Pramila Krishnan, 2003. "Food aid and informal insurance," CSAE Working Paper Series 2003-01, Centre for the Study of African Economies, University of Oxford.
  6. Claudio Agostini & Phillip Brown, 2007. "Cash Transfers and Poverty Reduction in Chile," ILADES-Georgetown University Working Papers, Ilades-Georgetown University, Universidad Alberto Hurtado/School of Economics and Bussines inv187, Ilades-Georgetown University, Universidad Alberto Hurtado/School of Economics and Bussines.
  7. Schady, Norbert R., 2000. "Picking the poor : indicators for geographic targeting in Peru," Policy Research Working Paper Series 2477, The World Bank.
  8. Minot, Nicholas, 1998. "Generating disaggregated poverty maps," MTID discussion papers, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) 25, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
  9. Birdsall, Nancy & James, Estelle, 1990. "Efficiency and equity in social spending : how and why governments misbehave," Policy Research Working Paper Series 274, The World Bank.


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