Smart comments from Chris Blattman:
First, the message can be misunderstood. It is not, “Cash transfers to the poor are a panacea.” More like, “They probably suck less than most of the other things we are doing.” This is not a high bar.
Second, cash transfers work in some cases not others. If a poor person is enterprising, and their main problem is insufficient capital, terrific. If that’s not their problem, throwing cash will not do much to help. I recommend the paper for details. Apologies: It is even more boring that Das Kapital.
Third, a cash transfer to help the poor build business is like aspirin to a flesh wound. It helps, but not for long. The real problem is the absence of firms small and large to employ people productively. The root of the problem is political instability, economic uncertainty, and a country’s high cost structure, among other things. A government’s attention is properly on these bigger issues.
If I were an enterprising young researcher looking for an idea and experiments that will prove powerful in five years, I would try to find the stake I can drive into the heart of the cash transfer movement.
My rule of thumb in this profession: “If the New York Times covers a research paper, the next year we will learn that it’s wrong”.
My only quibble is that aspirins don't help for flesh wounds, as they only serve to thin the blood and increase bleeding.