…if you are a poor African teenager, having a sugar daddy is not such a bad deal. Eventually, Mr Right may come along and in the meantime life is, as the term suggests, a lot sweeter than it might otherwise be. Except for one thing. In many parts of Africa, relationships between older men and younger women are one of the main transmitters of HIV. With that in mind, it has often been hypothesised that if teenage girls were given an alternative income—one that might, for instance, allow them to stay on at school—they would be less likely to get infected. It is a plausible hypothesis but one that has not, until now, actually been tested. That lack has just been remedied by Berk Özler, of the World Bank, and his colleagues. In a paper just published by the Lancet, they describe how they conducted a randomised clinical trial of the idea that money, and money alone, can stop the spread of HIV. …In some they and their parents were given small amounts of money each month (between $1 and $5 for the women, and between $4 and $10 for the parents), again decided at random by the computer. In a third set of areas money was doled out in a similar way, but only in exchange for a promise by the woman to attend school. If she failed to do so, no money was forthcoming. …the team found that the unpaid women had suffered more than twice the HIV infection rate experienced by the paid women over the course of the 18 months of the experiment, and four times the infection rate of genital herpes. Intriguingly, there was no difference between the infection rate suffered by those required to go to school and those who received the money unconditionally. …What is abundantly clear, however, was that the money did make women behave differently. They had younger boyfriends than those in the control group, and had sex less frequently. Liberated from the need to find a sugar daddy, they could behave in a safer way. Those attempting to stop the spread of AIDS have, in the past, tried many ways of getting people to change their behaviour in order to reduce the risk of infection. They have extolled, exhorted and even threatened, all to little avail. They have not, though, previously, resorted to bribery. But it seems to work.
Upon reading this, I had several reactions.
- I first thought being a sugar daddy would be a nice gig, but then I realized that I don’t have nearly enough sugar in my bank account. Life obviously isn’t fair.
- I then thought that I’m not a fan of the World Bank, but I must admit that this seems to be a reasonably good way for them to spend money.
- I also wondered why nobody is arresting, harassing, or otherwise going after these SOBs that are infecting the young girls. If I was the father of one of these girls, it definitely would be time for some vigilante justice.
- Finally, being a policy geek, I wondered whether this powerful example of incentives might get some leftists to draw some obvious conclusions about the need for better tax policy.
But then I came to my senses. It seems that many of the statists I debate and deal with support punitive taxation for reasons of spite and envy. As such, they don’t really care about the impact on either the economy or tax revenues.
And if you’re wondering why they would come to such a crazy conclusion, watch this video – especially beginning about the 4:30 mark.
It’s enough to make you wonder whether they realize that this strategy is self defeating. Heck, even a former socialist President of Brazil noted that there’s nothing to redistribute if some people don’t first produce.