On 3rd Nov we had a seminar presentation by Johannes Haushofer on a RCT in Kenya. In this experiment, some households in villages is Western Kenya were given unconditional cash transfers of either USD 404 or USD 1525. The researchers measured psychological wellbeing and found, unsurprisingly, that the lucky ones were happier and that their unlucky neighbours were unhappy. The paper is aptly titled “Your Gain is my Pain”. During the seminar everybody appeared to be trying to understand the identification strategy and thinking of ways to criticise it.
I was just overwhelmed by a sense that this type of research should not be done at all. No matter how clever the identification strategy is. Am I the only one to think that is not ethical dishing out large sums of money in small communities and observing how jealous and unhappy this makes the unlucky members of these tight knit communities? In any case, what do we learn from a study like this? The results indicate that we should not single out households and give them large sums of money. So I hope this puts an end to unethical RCTs like this one.
The picture is taken from http://www.wspus.org/2015/07/how-progressive-ideas-protect-inequality/