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Identity Verification Standards in Welfare Programs: Experimental Evidence from India

Author

Listed:
  • Karthik Muralidharan
  • Paul Niehaus
  • Sandip Sukhtankar

Abstract

How should recipients of publicly-provided goods and services prove their identity in order to access these benefits? The core design challenge is managing the tradeoff between Type-II errors of inclusion (including corruption) against Type-I errors of exclusion whereby legitimate beneficiaries are denied benefits. We use a large-scale experiment randomized across 15 million beneficiaries to evaluate the effects of more stringent ID requirements based on biometric authentication on the delivery of India's largest social protection program (subsidized food) in the state of Jharkhand. By itself, requiring biometric authentication to transact did not reduce leakage, slightly increased transaction costs for the average beneficiary, and reduced benefits received by the subset of beneficiaries who had not previously registered an ID by 10%. Subsequent reforms that made use of authenticated transaction data to determine allocations to the program coincided with large reductions in leakage, but also significant reductions in benefits received. Our results highlight that attempts to reduce corruption in welfare programs can also generate non-trivial costs in terms of exclusion and inconvenience to genuine beneficiaries.

Suggested Citation

  • Karthik Muralidharan & Paul Niehaus & Sandip Sukhtankar, 2020. "Identity Verification Standards in Welfare Programs: Experimental Evidence from India," NBER Working Papers 26744, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:26744
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D73 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Bureaucracy; Administrative Processes in Public Organizations; Corruption
    • H53 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Government Expenditures and Welfare Programs
    • O30 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - General
    • Q18 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Agricultural Policy; Food Policy

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