The Washington Post reported yesterday that India will, starting Jan 1st in 51 districts, pay cash directly into the accounts of poor families as it begins unraveling its convoluted web of food, fuel and other subsidies. India’s been toying with this idea for a while, so it’s good news that it’ll finally kick-off in the New Year. Many others will be watching.
CGD Policy Blogs
Johnny West is a man of many talents. An expert on oil, civil society, and governance in the Middle East who works as an advisor to the UNDP, he is fluent in Arabic, spent more than two decades in the Middle East as a journalist for Reuters, and has just published a highly readable book recounting his journey through the Arab Spring.
Lately I’ve been thinking Nigeria should be a little bit more like, of all places, Iran. Yes, Iran. And maybe Alaska. Here’s how.
Africa’s most populous nation has been a massive underperformer since independence. It’s earned hundreds of billions of dollars from petroleum exports, but the average Nigerian has little to show for it. At least three decades were lost; average incomes in the mid-2000s were the same as in the mid-1970s. More recently, the economic data has been brighter. And there is always hope that the country has finally turned a corner.
When a poor country finds oil, bad things often get worse. Countries rich in extractable natural resources, especially oil, frequently suffer from crummy governance, high poverty, endemic corruption and conflict. Is it possible to beat this oil curse? My guest on the Wonkcast this week, Todd Moss, CGD vice president for programs and senior fellow, says yes. He argues that a government that transfers some or all of its oil revenue to citizens in a universal, transparent, and regular taxable payment, could strengthen the social contract, fight corruption, and lay the foundation for future prosperity.
This is a joint post with Stephanie Majerowicz.
Last Sunday the government of Nigeria scrapped fuel subsidies, leading to an immediate doubling of petrol prices. This set off violent protests across the country, threats of strikes by trade unions, and was even lamented by western pundits as a sign of government indifference to the poor. Economists of course view the move as a valiant step toward fixing a deeply dysfunctional budget system. Fuel subsidies were (directly and indirectly) draining the treasury, at a cost of up to US$8bn per year, equivalent to over 25% of the federal budget.
The rub will be if the government can make the case that there’s a better way to spend its resources than through fuel subsidies. Nigerian protesters could be forgiven for being skeptical. Many see cheap gas as the only tangible benefit from their country’s vast oil wealth.