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Why Is So Much Redistribution In-Kind and Not in Cash? Evidence from a Survey Experiment
Last registered on August 17, 2020

Pre-Trial

Trial Information
General Information
Title
Why Is So Much Redistribution In-Kind and Not in Cash? Evidence from a Survey Experiment
RCT ID
AEARCTR-0006294
Initial registration date
August 14, 2020
Last updated
August 17, 2020 1:15 PM EDT
Location(s)
Region
Primary Investigator
Affiliation
Yale University
Other Primary Investigator(s)
Additional Trial Information
Status
Completed
Start date
2020-04-09
End date
2020-04-21
Secondary IDs
Abstract
Basic economic theory prescribes that redistribution typically take the form of cash rather than in-kind goods and services, since cash lets the recipient choose how to use the resources, thereby maximizing benefits to the recipient. Notwithstanding this benefit, among the trillions of dollars of annual transfers in the United States, redistribution is mostly—and increasingly—in-kind. We help explain why with novel survey experiments to better-understand Americans’ preferences regarding the structure of government redistribution.

Our survey experiment offers a large, demographically representative sample of respondents a hypothetical choice between a cash transfer and a transfer that can only be spent on a bundle of “necessities.” We make three main points. First, survey respondents overwhelmingly preferred in-kind over cash transfers to the poor. The most important reason for this choice is paternalism: the belief that the poor will not spend cash on the right things. The preference for in-kind was common to a majority of virtually all segments of the general population, though not to a sample of intellectual elites. Second, stated preferences suggest that respondents are willing to redistribute considerably more in-kind than in cash. We also surveyed the poor, who preferred receiving cash, but not as strongly as the general population preferred redistributing in-kind. The modesty of this preference among the poor in part comes from a sizable minority that preferred in-kind redistribution, which many anticipated functioning as a self-control mechanism. Third, a randomized treatment explaining the value of choice significantly increased the preference for cash over in-kind, but it did not change the overall preference for in-kind.
External Link(s)
Registration Citation
Citation
Liscow, Zachary. 2020. "Why Is So Much Redistribution In-Kind and Not in Cash? Evidence from a Survey Experiment." AEA RCT Registry. August 17. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.6294-1.0.
Experimental Details
Interventions
Intervention(s)
Intervention Start Date
2020-04-09
Intervention End Date
2020-04-21
Primary Outcomes
Primary Outcomes (end points)
Support for in-kind redistribution, support for cash redistribution, preference between cash and in-kind redistribution
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
Secondary Outcomes
Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
Experimental Design
Experimental Design
There were several randomized information and persuasion treatments, and random order effects are also under study.
Experimental Design Details
Randomization Method
Randomization done by computer.
Randomization Unit
Individuals
Was the treatment clustered?
No
Experiment Characteristics
Sample size: planned number of clusters
2500 individuals
Sample size: planned number of observations
2500 individuals
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
1000 control, 3 sets of 500 treatment groups
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
IRB
INSTITUTIONAL REVIEW BOARDS (IRBs)
IRB Name
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number
Post-Trial
Post Trial Information
Study Withdrawal
Intervention
Is the intervention completed?
No
Is data collection complete?
Data Publication
Data Publication
Is public data available?
No
Program Files
Program Files
Reports, Papers & Other Materials
Relevant Paper(s)
REPORTS & OTHER MATERIALS