International Politics & Economics

Visit the International Politics & Economics department site.

Brazil’s Bolsa Família program is a conditional cash transfer scheme that has been hailed for dramatically reducing poverty and inequality since its launch in 2003. Under the scheme, qualifying families receive a monthly stipend on the condition that they fulfill certain requirements in health and education. Although the Bolsa Família is a federal program, each of Brazil’s 5, 564 municipalities play an important role in its local implementation. Using a combination of regression analysis and four case studies from the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil, this study evaluates the impact of local government capacity on beneficiaries’ health and education. I find that municipalities with higher administrative capacity – more developed collaboration across sectors and more competent staff – are likely to be more effective in implementing the BFP, as observed by higher monitoring rates. As a result, the percentage of beneficiaries who comply with the program’s health and education requirements is likely to be higher in these municipalities. The paper concludes that local governments are critical actors in the success of this program and calls for policymakers to build administrative capacity through a combination of incentives and regulations.



Researcher: Pui Shen Yoong

Advisors: Professor Jessica Teets (Political Science),

Professor John Maluccio (Economics)



Related Links

Bolsa Familia (in Portuguese)

The Nuts and Bolts of Brazil’s Bolsa Familia Program: Implementing Conditional Cash Transfers in a Decentralized Context 

Avoiding Governors: The Success of Bolsa Familia

Buying Out the Poor? Bolsa Familia & the 2010 Elections in Brazil


Full Report

Presentation Slides





A MiddLab Project

Buying Out the Poor? Bolsa Familia and the 2010 Elections in Brazil

Learn more about Politics & Economics and Latin America at Middlebury College.

Hailed for reducing poverty and inequality in Brazil, the Bolsa Familia program (PBF) is the largest conditional cash transfer program in the world. Critics, however, have accused President Lula and his party of indirectly ‘buying’ the poor vote through the PBF. This research investigates the relationship between the PBF and the voting patterns of its recipients in the recent elections. Is the PBF an apolitical poverty reduction strategy? Does it influence the formation of political preferences? Based on interviews conducted in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, I focus on the beneficiaries’ own perception of the program, exploring the concepts of “ownership” and “clientelism” in social welfare.


Pui Shen Yoong

Svea Closser
Sponsor & Assistant Professor of Sociology & Anthropology

Related Links


Brazilian Press Coverage

Dilma atinge 40% entre participantes do Bolsa Família

Dilma diz que quer ser ‘mãe à altura’ dos brasileiros

Antes das eleições CEF erra e paga Bolsa Família maior

Prefeita relata prática de angraiar votos para Lula com programa federal

Plínio quer quadruplicar beneficiarios do Bolsa Familia e reduzir tempo do auxilio

Em Pernambuco Lula defende o Bolsa Familia

Norma do governo distribuída a prefeitos diz que próximo gestor pode mudar regras do Bolsa Família

Para PSDB, PT faz terrorismo com mensagem sobre recadastramento do Bolsa Familia. Governo nega acusão

No radio Serra garante continuidade do Bolsa Familia, Dilma fala sobre PAC

Em Santa Catarina, Marina diz que não fará ‘aventuras econômicas’ se for eleita


Despite unbelievable economic growth rates averaging between 8-10% in 2009 and bright economic prospects, China and India have become two of the largest contributors to world poverty. However, China has been able to alleviate more poverty than India. I believe that there are lessons to be learnt from China’s success. Thus, I will compare both nations and examine the impact of provincial politics (decentralization) on poverty alleviation to determine why China has been able to alleviate more poverty than India. Since China and India are populous, large countries, there is a strong presence of state-level political institutions, which guide policy implementation. I will, thus, examine the cases of Sichuan and Anhui in China and Kerala andBihar in India. The contrast between the success of Sichuan and Kerala and failures of Anhui and Bihar will provide insight on the impact of decentralization and effectiveness of policy implementation towards poverty alleviation.


Ruchi Singh

Jessica Teets
Sponsor & Assistant Professor of Political Science

Related Links


A MiddLab Project

The Financial Burden of Terminal Illnesses and the Support System

Learn more about Economics and History at Middlebury College.

The onset of terminal illness within low and middle income families often has devastating effects. This effect is substantially magnified if the person who becomes terminally ill is the primary bread winner of the family. In the Indian setting the onset of terminal illness causes three primary changes within a family’s daily functioning. Firstly, the individual and to an extent the family has to face social stigma that is associated with certain terminal illnesses like HIV/AIDS and Cancer. Secondly, if the primary bread winner is affected then the family looses a significant revenue source. Thirdly, the terminal illness results in large increases in medical expenses. However, regardless of the intensity of the financial crisis these families do function (however impaired) from a week to the next. My research explores the support structure that allows for this sustenance, its nature and composition, and attempts to utilize the findings to stimulate policy changes within the local and state systems.


Anil Menon

Peter Matthews
Sponsor and  James B. Jermain Professor of Political Economy

Related Links


Sites DOT Middlebury: the Middlebury site network.