Saturday, 31 July 2010

Quiz: Ask me the question.

US GDP figures show 2.4% growth despite wary consumers.

Brazil's Bolsa Familia.

Brazil's Bolsa Família.
How to get children out of jobs and into school.
The limits of Brazil’s much admired anti-poverty programme


Three generations of the Teixeira family live in three tiny rooms in Eldorado, one of the poorest favelas (slums) of Greater São Paulo, the largest city in the Americas. The matriarch of the family, Maria, has six children; her eldest daughter, Marina, has a toddler and a baby. Like many other households in the favela, the family has been plagued by domestic violence. But a few years ago, helped in part by Bolsa Família (family grant)—which pays mothers a small sum as long as their children stay in education and get medical check-ups—Maria took her children out of child labour and sent them to school.
The programme allows the children to miss about 15% of classes. But if a child gets caught missing more than that, payment is suspended for the whole family. The Teixeiras’ grant has been suspended and restarted several times as boy after boy skipped classes. And now the eldest, João, aged 16, is out earning a bit of money by cleaning cars or distributing leaflets, taking his younger brothers with him. Marina’s pregnancies have added to the pressure. She gets no money for her children because she lives with her mother and the family has reached Bolsa Família’s upper limit.
Their experience does not mean Bolsa Família has been a failure. On the contrary. By common consent the conditional cash-transfer programme (CCT) has been a stunning success and is wildly popular. It was expanded in 2003, the year Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva became Brazil’s president, and several times since; 12.4m households are now enrolled. Candidates for the presidency (the election is on October 3rd) are competing to say who will expand it more. The opposition’s José Serra says he will increase coverage to 15m households. The ruling party’s Dilma Rousseff, who was Lula’s chief of staff, says she is the programme’s true guardian. It is, in the words of a former World Bank president, a “model of effective social policy” and has been exported round the world. New York’s Opportunity NYC is partly based on it.
Much of this acclamation is justified. Brazil has made huge strides in poverty reduction and the programme has played a big part. According to the Fundaçao Getulio Vargas (FGV), a university, the number of Brazilians with incomes below 800 reais ($440) a month has fallen more than 8% every year since 2003. The Gini index, a measure of income inequality, fell from 0.58 to 0.54, a large fall by this measure. The main reason for the improvement is the rise in bottom-level wages. But according to FGV, about one-sixth of the poverty reduction can be attributed to Bolsa Família, the same share as attributed to the increase in state pensions—but at far lower cost. Bolsa Família payments are tiny, around 22 reais ($12) per month per child, with a maximum payment of 200 reais. The programme costs just 0.5% of gdp.
But the story of the Teixeiras and others like them should sound a warning to those who see Bolsa Família as a panacea. There is some evidence the programme is not working as well in cities as in rural areas. This concern differs from the usual complaints about the programme in Brazil. There, critics think it erodes incentives to work and sometimes goes to the wrong people.
A recent report for the United Nations Development Programme found the programme did not lead to dependence and that its impact on the labour market was slight. According to World Bank researchers, Bolsa Família’s record in reaching its target audience is better than most CCTs.
Still, there has been a tendency to treat Bolsa Família as magic bullet—in Brazil and beyond. Once a country has a Bolsa Família-type programme, it thinks it has dealt with the problems of poverty. It has not. Rômulo Paes de Sousa, the executive secretary of Brazil’s social-development ministry, talks about “old” and “new” poverty—old being lack of food and basic services; new being drug addiction, violence, family breakdown and environmental degradation. These “new” problems are more complex. Where they are being overcome, it is taking the combined efforts of the police (to reclaim the streets), new shops and commerce (to make life more bearable), Pentecostal churches (which give people hope)—and Bolsa Família.
Rural Brazil, with its malnutrition and absence of clean water and clinics, is an area of old poverty and Bolsa Família has been wonderfully effective in fighting it. But many of the problems of fast-growing cities, particularly in developing countries, are those of new poverty. And nobody, including the designers of Bolsa Família, has a magic bullet for those.


More Couples Sleeping in Separate Beds.

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The New York Times and The Today Show are reporting that more couples are sleeping in separate bedrooms. But is this a sign of suffering marriages, or a new dawn of healthy relationships?

We’re analyzing perspectives from NBC, The New York Times, and Woman’s Day.

The Today Show cites a 2005 study and some newer information, and speaks with a family therapist who says this is a good thing because partners might have different sleeping habits.

“According to the National Sleep Foundation, nearly one in four American couples sleep in separate bedrooms or beds, and the National Association of Home Builders says it expects 60 percent of custom homes to have dual master bedrooms by 2015.”

“When you’re more well-rested you are more productive at work. You bring home that positive energy, and it impacts your relationship. ... You have more energy to spend time together. You have more energy to have sex.”

The show also interviewed Bruce Feiler, who recently covered the trend in The New York Times. He argues that separate beds are bad.

BRUCE FEILER: “Couples no long eat together, pray together, work together — sleeping together is almost the last bastion of togetherness in a relationship.”

Feiler wrote in his piece:

“If pillow talk dies, can throwing in the towel be far behind?”

But Salon says Feiler shouldn’t be generalizing — that relationships are couple-specific, and people shouldn’t submit to stigmas.

“We have plenty of superficial symbols of marital dedication and health… see also: bazillion-dollar blowout weddings… if you… put too much faith in the power of those norms, you're setting yourself up for failure.”

And a writer for Woman’s Day points out that, not too long ago, separate beds were the norm.

“...100 years ago, it was the status quo…”

What do you think of separate beds? Is the idea healthy or a sleep in the wrong direction?

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