Money for nothing: An even less complicated idea really took off this year: giving money away, no strings attached. Alaska pioneered the concept in the 1980s to keep oil revenues out of the coffers of a less-than-reliable state government, handing out amounts from $330 to more than $3,000 a year to each resident, the payouts depending on how the oil business was faring. Now parts of the developing world are rolling out similar ideas. Mongolia has set up a program that funnels mining revenues to children, and some of Bolivia's natural gas export earnings go into the country's pension system. Like conditional cash-transfer programs, such payments have been associated with increased investment in nutrition, health, education, and even microenterprise. Brazil's unconditional rural pension, for instance, increased school attendance by 20 percent among girls living in a household that received it. An unconditional pension in South Africa cut school absenteeism among 6-year-olds in half. And Haiti is testing a program that uses mobile phones to transfer cash directly to earthquake victims. Thus the refreshingly blunt title of this year's must-read book on development: Just Give Money to the Poor.
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