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Benchmarking government provision of social safety nets


  • Timothy Besley
  • Robin Burgess
  • Imran Rasul


The question of how much governments should spend on social programs generally, or safety nets in particular, is of great obvious interest to policymakers but is extremely difficult to address empirically. The approach in this paper differs from others by assuming that what governments can potentially do in terms of spending on social programs is given by what governments across the world are actually observed to be doing on average. After first briefly reviewing the existing methodologies, their limitations, and what can be learned, an analysis of 63 countries spending patterns from 1972-1997 is presented using a comparative benchmarking methodology. Unconditional rankings of spending on safety nets and other health and education social programs are refined by controlling for various factors which affect the ability to fund programs. Two sets of factors are examined: (i) structural features captured by regional dummy variables and characteristics of the underlying populations; and (ii) quality of government as reflected in measures of corruption, rule of law, political pressure, and others. Separate analyses are conducted across countries for selected welfare indicators such as the infant mortality rate and life expectancy at birth and for states in India, for which additional information is available on macroeconomic factors and institutional features influencing safety nets spending. The approach generates a picture as to how states are performing relative to international expenditure norms and may be useful to policymakers in determining the appropriate level of overall spending.

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  • Timothy Besley & Robin Burgess & Imran Rasul, 2003. "Benchmarking government provision of social safety nets," Social Protection and Labor Policy and Technical Notes 27870, The World Bank.
  • Handle: RePEc:wbk:hdnspu:27870

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Besley, Timothy & Case, Anne, 2000. "Unnatural Experiments? Estimating the Incidence of Endogenous Policies," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 110(467), pages 672-694, November.
    2. van de Walle, Dominique, 1998. "Assessing the welfare impacts of public spending," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 26(3), pages 365-379, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Jeanty, P. Wilner & Ulimwengu, John Mususa, 2011. "Poverty rate and government income transfers: A spatial simultaneous equations approach," IFPRI discussion papers 1076, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    2. Sam Hickey, 2007. "Conceptualising the Politics of Social Protection in Africa," Global Development Institute Working Paper Series 0407, GDI, The University of Manchester.
    3. Eunju Kim & Jayoung Yoo, 2015. "Conditional Cash Transfer in the Philippines: How to Overcome Institutional Constraints for Implementing Social Protection," Asia and the Pacific Policy Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 2(1), pages 75-89, January.
    4. Margaret Grosh & Carlo del Ninno & Emil Tesliuc & Azedine Ouerghi, 2008. "For Protection and Promotion : The Design and Implementation of Effective Safety Nets," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 6582, November.


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