Do informed citizens receive more...or pay more ? the impact of radio on the government distribution of public health benefits
The government provision of free or subsidized bed nets to combat malaria in Benin allows the identification of new channels through which mass media affect public policy outcomes. Prior research has concluded that governments provide greater private benefits to better-informed individuals. This paper shows, for the first time, that governments can also respond by exploiting informed individuals'greater willingness to pay for these benefits. Using a"natural experiment"in radio markets in northern Benin, the paper finds that media access increases the likelihood that households pay for the bed nets they receive from government, rather than getting them for free. Households more exposed to radio programming on the benefits of bed nets and the hazards of malaria place a higher value on bed nets. Local government officials exercise significant discretion over bed net pricing and respond to higher demand by selling bed nets that they could have distributed for free. Mass media appears to change the private behavior of citizens -- in this case, to invest more of their own resources on a public health good (bed nets) -- but not their ability to extract greater benefits from government.
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