Cash vs. in-kind transfers: Indian data meets theory
This paper uses qualitative and quantitative data from a survey of over 1200 rural households in nine Indian states to explore the arguments for and against cash and in-kind (in this case, food) transfers. When respondents were asked to think about, argue, and ‘choose’ between the two, two-thirds of the respondents expressed a preference for food. Rather than the choice made by respondents, the focus here is on understanding the reasons behind their choice, as explained by beneficiaries themselves. Two main findings emerge. First, some arguments corroborate existing theory (e.g., paternalism, fungibility), but others (e.g., self-control, transition costs) are not incorporated in existing theory on the advantages of in-kind transfers. Second, context is important. Most importantly, respondents’ reported preferences were associated with the benefits they were experiencing under the status quo: where the PDS performed better at distributing food, respondents were more likely to report preferring food to cash transfers. The contention of traditional theory that cash is superior fails to factor in contextual concerns.
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