Banerjee, Abhijit, Rema Hanna, Jordan Kyle, Benjamin A. Olken, and Sudarno Sumarto. Submitted. “The Power of Transparency: Information, Identification Cards and Food Subsidy Programs in Indonesia”.Abstract

Can governments improve aid programs by providing information to beneficiaries? In our model, information can change how much aid citizens receive as they bargain with local officials who implement national programs. In a large-scale field experiment, we test whether mailing cards with program information to beneficiaries increases their subsidy from a subsidized rice program. Beneficiaries received 26 percent more subsidy in card villages. Ineligible households received no less, so this represents lower leakage. The evidence suggests that this effect is driven by citizen bargaining with local officials. Experimentally adding the official price to the cards increased the subsidy by 21 percent compared to cards without price information. Additional public information increased higher-order knowledge about eligibility, leading to a 16 percent increase in subsidy compared to just distributing cards. In short, increased transparency empowered citizens to reduce leakages and improve program functioning.

Pande, Rohini, Sean Lewis-Faupe, Yusuf Negger, and Benjamin A. Olken. 2014. “Can Electronic Procurement Improve Infrastructure Provision?Evidence from Public Works in India and Indonesia.” American Economic Journal: Public Policy.Abstract

Poorly functioning, and often corrupt, public procurement procedures are widely faulted for the low quality of infrastructure provision in developing countries. Can electronic procurement (e-procurement), which reduces both the cost of acquiring tender information and personal inter-action between bidders and procurement officials, ameliorate these problems? In this paper we develop a unique micro-dataset on public works procurement from two fast-growing economies, India and Indonesia, and use regional and time variation in the adoption of e-procurement across both countries to examine its impact. We find no evidence that e-procurement reduces prices paid by the government, but do find that it is associated with quality improvements. In India, where we observe an independent measure of construction quality, e-procurement improves the average road quality, and in Indonesia, e-procurement reduces delays in completion of public works projects. Bidding data suggests that an important channel of influence is selection {regions with e-procurement have a broader distribution of winners, with (better) winning bidders more likely to come from outside the region where the work takes place. On net, the results suggest that e-procurement facilitates entry from higher quality contractors

Hanna, Rema, Vivi Alatas, Abhijit Banerjee, Benjamin Olken, Matthew Wai-Poi, and Ririn Purnamasari. 2014. Targeting the Poor: Evidence from a Field Experiment in Indonesia. 12th ed. Vol. Impact Evaluation Report. International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie), Impact Evaluation Report, 12. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Governments of developing countries often lack verifiable income information for poor people and communities. This makes targeting for social programs a challenge. This report provides results from a randomised control trial that was designed to better understand how to improve targeting in Indonesia. Specifically, during the expansion of Indonesia’s real conditional cash transfer program, Program Keluarga Harapan (PKH), we randomized three different targeting methodologies — proxy means testing, self-targeting and community targeting – across 600 villages. We found that, when poverty is defined by consumption, self-targeting identifies poorer beneficiaries than proxy means testing and it has lower administrative costs. Community targeting is less effective than proxy means testing in identifying the poor based on per capita consumption, but it results in higher satisfaction levels with the program.

Hanna, Rema, Vivi Alatas, Abhijit Banerjee, Benjamin A Olken, Ririn Purnamasari, and Matthew Wai-Poi. 2013. “Ordeal mechanism in targeting: theory and evidence from a field experiment in Indonesia”.Abstract

This paper explores whether ordeal mechanisms can improve the targeting of aid programs to the poor ("self-targeting"). We first show that theoretically the impact of increasing ordeals is ambiguous: for example, time spent applying imposes a higher monetary cost on the rich, but may impose a higher utility cost on the poor. We examine these issues by conducting a 400-village field experiment with Indonesia’s Conditional Cash Transfer program (PKH), where eligibility is determined through an asset test. Specifically, we compare targeting outcomes from self-targeting, where villagers came to a central site to apply and take the asset test, against the status quo, an automatic enrollment system among a pool of potential candidates that the village pre-identified. Within self-targeting villages, we find that the poor are more likely to apply, even conditional on whether they would pass the asset test. Exploiting the experimental variation, we find that self-targeting leads to a much poorer group of beneficiaries than the status quo. Selftargeting also outperforms a universal asset-based automatic enrollment system that we construct using our survey data. However, while experimentally increasing the distance to the application site reduces the number of applicants, it does not differentially improve targeting. Estimating our model structurally, we show that there are large unobserved shocks in the decision to apply, and therefore increasing waiting times to 9 hours or more would be required to induce detectable additional selection. In short, ordeal mechanisms can induce self-selection, but marginally increasing the ordeal can impose additional costs on applicants without necessarily improving targeting.

Hanna, Rema, Vivi Alatas, Abhijit Banerjee, Benjamin A Olken, Ririn Purnamasari, and Matthew Wai-Poi. 2013. “Does Elite Capture Matter? Local Elites and Targeted Welfare Programs in Indonesia”.Abstract

This paper investigates the impact of elite capture on the allocation of targeted government welfare programs in Indonesia, using both a high-stakes field experiment that varied the extent of elite influence and non-experimental data on a variety of existing government transfer programs. Conditional on their consumption level, there is little evidence that village elites and their relatives are more likely to receive aid programs than non-elites. Looking more closely, however, we find that this overall result masks a difference between different types of elites: those holding formal leadership positions are more likely to receive benefits, while informal leaders are actually less likely to. We show that capture by formal elites occurs during the distribution of benefits under the programs, and not during the processes when the beneficiary lists are determined by the central government. However, while elite capture exists, the welfare losses it creates appear quite small: since formal elites and their relatives are only 9 percent richer than non-elites, are at most about 8 percentage points more likely to receive benefits than non-elites, and represent at most 15 percent of the population, eliminating elite capture entirely would improve the welfare gains from these programs by less than one percent.

Hanna, Rema, Vivi Alatas, Abhijit Banerjee, Arun G. Chandrasekhar, and Benjamin A. Olken. 2012. “Network Structure and the Aggregation of Information: Theory and Evidence from Indonesia”.Abstract

We use a unique data-set from Indonesia on what individuals know about the income distribution in their village to test theories such as Jackson and Rogers (2007) that link information aggregation in networks to the structure of the network. The observed patterns are consistent with a basic diffusion model: more central individuals are better informed and individuals are able to better evaluate the poverty status of those to whom they are more socially proximate. To understand what the theory predicts for cross-village patterns, we estimate a simple diffusion model using within-village variation, simulate network-level diffusion under this model for the over 600 different networks in our data, and use this simulated data to gauge what the simple diffusion model predicts for the cross-village relationship between information diffusion and network characteristics (e.g. clustering, density). The coefficients in these simulated regressions are generally consistent with relationships suggested in previous theoretical work, even though in our setting formal analytical predictions have not been derived. We then show that the qualitative predictions from the simulated model largely match the actual data in the sense that we obtain similar results both when the dependent variable is an empirical measure of the accuracy of a village’s aggregate information and when it is the simulation outcome. Finally, we consider a real-world application to community based targeting, where villagers chose which households should receive an anti-poverty program, and show that networks with better diffusive properties (as predicted by our model) differentially benefit from community based targeting policies.

Alatas, Vivi, Abhijit Banerjee, Rema Hanna, Benjamin A. Olken, and Julia Tobias. 2012. “Targeting the Poor: Evidence from a Field Experiment in Indonesia.” American Economic Review 102 (4): 1206-1240. Publisher's VersionAbstract

This paper reports an experiment in 640 Indonesian villages on three approaches to target the poor: proxy-means tests (PMT), where assets are used to predict consumption; community targeting, where villagers rank everyone from richest to poorest; and a hybrid. Defining poverty based on PPP$2 per-capita consumption, community targeting and the hybrid perform somewhat worse in identifying the poor than PMT, though not by enough to significantly affect poverty outcomes for a typical program. Elite capture does not explain these results. Instead, communities appear to apply a different concept of poverty. Consistent with this finding, community targeting results in higher satisfaction.

Hanna, Rema, Sendhil Mullainathan, and Josh Schwartstein. 2012. “Learning Through Noticing: Theory and Experimental Evidence in Farming”.Abstract

Existing learning models attribute failures to learn to a lack of data. We model a different barrier. Given the large number of dimensions one could focus on when using a technology, people may fail to learn because they failed to notice important features of the data they possess. We conduct a field experiment with seaweed farmers to test a model of "learning through noticing." We find evidence of a failure to notice: On some dimensions, farmers do not even know the value of their own input. Interestingly, trials show that these dimensions are the ones that farmers fail to optimize. Furthermore, consistent with the model, we find that simply having access to the experimental data does not induce learning. Instead, farmers change behavior only when presented with summaries that highlight the overlooked dimensions. We also draw out the implications of learning through noticing for technology adoption, agricultural extension, and the meaning of human capital.

Singhal, Monica, and Benjamin A Olken. 2011. “Informal taxation.” American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 3 (4): 1-28. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Informal payments are a frequently overlooked source of local public finance in developing countries. We use microdata from ten countries to establish stylized facts on the magnitude, form, and distributional implications of this "informal taxation." Informal taxation is widespread, particularly in rural areas, with substantial in-kind labor payments. The wealthy pay more, but pay less in percentage terms, and informal taxes are more regressive than formal taxes. Failing to include informal taxation underestimates household tax burdens and revenue decentralization in developing countries. We discuss various explanations for and implications of these observed stylized facts.