In a recent blog post, Columbia professor and development cash transfer expert Chris Blattman states the following:
“Neither the government nor the charity I worked with in Uganda were willing to try [giving people] just cash…[A radio show] talked to a woman from Heifer International, who give cows and training instead of cash. That could be the right thing to do. But she couldn’t bear the thought of finding out. She hated the idea of experimenting on poor people. They are human beings.
Let me be blunt: This is the way the Heifers of the world fool themselves. When you give stuff to some people and not to others, you are still experimenting in the world. You are still flipping a coin to decide who you help and who you don’t, it’s just an imaginary one.
You’re experimenting with your eyes closed.
This is a somewhat controversial statement that bumps up against our knee jerk reactions and engrained intervention norms. But are those norms unreasonable? EBSI students, faculty, and alums, chime in! In fact, we’d like to hear from anyone in the intervention community.
footnoteA similar phenomenon exists in studying the effects of day care. Governments and ngos are extremely reticent to utilize an RCT to study the effects of just daycare on children and families; they see it as unethical to withhold such a program from some children but not others.