Income Distribution and Price Controls: Targeting a Social Safety Net During Economic Transition
During the ongoing post-communist economic transitions, the relative well-being of many people is changing rapidly, and governments are not well positioned to accurately measure individual living standards. Under such circumstances, continued price controls over basic consumer goods within the state sector, and the associated queuing, can form a serviceable device for targeting poor people for subsidies. With a fixed-price state sector and free-price parallel markets, rich people might choose to avoid queues and shop in the free markets, while poor people would prefer to pay low nominal prices and queue in the state sector. The targeting of subsidies through queues, therefore, can be accomplished even if the government has no information on individual income or living standards. When the alternative to price controls is a poorly targeted explicit social safety net, the resource cost of queues might be more than compensated for by an improvement in the targeting of subsidies.
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