The promises of elusive maharanis, and no-strings-attached money

In Abhijit Banerjee's 'Tasting economics' column in The Times of India, the co-founder and co-director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) and Nobel Laureate in economics, reflects on optimism in the new year, while sharing early results of the world's largest universal basic income (UBI) scheme, currently being conducted in Kenya over the course of 12 years.

Abhijit writes, 'And the results do not disappoint. For one, there is no evidence that getting UBI makes people lazy. They work more overall, not less, though the difference is small. They do cut back on working for others but instead are working more on their own projects. The number of non-farming businesses (think shops, eating places) associated with these villages is almost a third higher than the villages where no intervention happened, and the number of farming businesses (think poultry, goat-herding) goes up too. As a result, earnings are about 20% higher than in the control villages. The fact that the 12-year UBI money is there for the foreseeable future seems to have made the villagers better able or more willing to take on something new. They also eat better, are less depressed and more likely to say that they are happy.'

Abhijit leaves readers with his recipe for a low-sugar cucumber mint cocktail, for a toast to the new year.


I must have been six or seven when for the first and probably last time, my parents were invited to a New Year’s Eve party along with the children. It was in a big house somewhere in Ballygunge, and a whole wing was set aside for activities for children, with several nannies running around to keep us there.

With limited success, I would add, because we had heard that a certain maharani would be attending, and that was all that we could think about. Our parents, presumably in order to protect the maharani from a gaggle of curious children, refused to identify her. So, we tried it on our own. No one was wearing a crown, and the one who came in a tiara was her cousin, a kid assured us, certainly not the queen. Eventually we each made our own picks. Mine was a long-nosed woman in a silver-grey sari, who I heard, in a voice heavily inflected with boredom that I later came to associate with many years of smoking, asking a certain (male) darling to get her another gin and tonic.

I think most of us have had the experience of that New Year’s Eve that was so built up that it was doomed to disappoint. And the one where you already know that it will not measure up but you need to go through the motions. I still wonder what it was for my maharani.

The Times of India