Social Policy of Our Time? An Inquiry into Evidence, Assumptions, and Diffusion of Conditional Cash Transfers in Latin America

Abstract: This dissertation presents an inquiry into existing evidence, underlying assumptions, and the rapid diffusion of conditional cash transfers (CCTs) in Latin America. Equally concerned with empirical research on CCTs’ assumed capabilities and the programmes’ political economy and social policy contexts, this inquiry combines systematic analyses and case studies from field work in Uruguay and Guatemala. In essence, it inquires into what the programmes are in terms of social policy, how effective they have been in reducing poverty and enhancing human capital investments, which evidence exist to support long-term impacts and how plausible are their underlying assumptions, and why the programmes have risen to prominence in Latin American social policy development. The empirical case studies specifically analyse CCTs’ capabilities to enable a break in intergenerational transmission of poverty, to simultaneously pursue income maintenance and human capital investments through a hybrid design, and to minimise policy politicisation. The inquiries into existing evidence reveal that CCTs’ proven impact pertains exclusively to short-term effects whereas their alleged long-term capabilities lack empirical foundations. Such capabilities are further challenged since they turn out to rest on some rather dubious theoretical assumptions. Furthermore, this dissertation finds that CCTs’ diffusion throughout Latin America could be explained by a historical convergence between various domestic and foreign factors, enabled by particularly salient programme characteristics.