Week of January 17, 2014

This week’s New and Noteworthy includes a history of the CFPB, reflections on the “war on poverty” in the US, and research showing a preference to receiving wages in cash over mobile money among garment workers in Bangladesh.

  • Barbara Ehrenreich, author of (among other things) Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in Americaexplains in The Atlantic how it’s more expensive to be poor than not poor and the many restraints that low-wage jobs puts on workers’ lives.  
  • The New America Foundation reminds us that the troubled launch of healthcare.gov was not the first time bad technology created problems for individuals seeking government services - the digitalization of social safety nets has a history of unintended negative consequences, especially for the poor.
  • Fifty years after former US President Lyndon Johnson waged a “war on poverty,” Pew Research provides a demographic snapshot of who the poor are, where they live, and how far the nation has come in addressing this issue.
  • The Washington Post’s Wonk Blog published an in-depth history of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, tracking the evolution of the agency since its inception.
  • Sendhil Mullainathan (an FAI co-founder) and Eldar Shafir’s book, Scarcity: Why Having Little Means So Much, has gotten a lot of much-deserved attention (including from FAI). Alex Counts of the Grameen Foundation blogs his reaction, describing how insights from the book and behavioral have implications for microfinance and international development specifically.
  • When given the option of being paid with cash or via mobile platforms, garment workers in Bangladesh preferred the former because it allows them to meet pending expenditures immediately and reduce some risks like scams at agent outlets and cash shortages, say new research from Financial Inclusion Insights.
  • The New York Times reviews the pros and cons of using the elements of a lottery– savers are entered into cash prize drawings if they meet certain deposit criteria—to promote savings.
  • CGAP provides a roundup of ten data sources to measure financial inclusion, including both demand-side and supply-side sources.
  • Daniel Altman responds to a new book by Paul Polak and Mal Warwick that claims the potential profits from untapped markets at the bottom of the pyramid is in the trillions of dollars. Altman contends that if you adjust for local purchasing power and currency values, the number is a lot less. He also argues that inefficient markets in the developing world can obstruct scaling of products, therefore further reducing profit potentials.

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