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Aiding Social Protection: the political economy of externally financing social policy in developing countries

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - aidsocpro (Aiding Social Protection: the political economy of externally financing social policy in developing countries)

Reporting period: 2018-05-01 to 2019-10-31

The problem being addressed by this project is two-fold. On one hand, it explores tensions involved with the macroeconomic management of aid and other official flows between financial need versus efforts by donors and international financial institutions (IFIs) to influence national policy agendas of the recipient countries, through conditionalities or other forms of pressure. These tensions are particularly relevant given donor commitments to principles of national ‘ownership’ since the Paris Agenda in the mid-2000s, despite ample evidence that they still attempt to influence policy agendas through a variety of channels, either financial or non-financial, some explicit and crude, others less so. Macroeconomic management also concerns issues of aid absorption, which occurs through trade deficits and, in this macroeconomic sense, is in tension with the pressure for countries run trade surpluses or limit trade deficits and accumulate reserves, and disciplined in this respect by a context of relatively open financial systems. Absorption addresses the question of whether aid flows are actually redistributive, in the sense of augmenting the consumption of goods and services of the recipient country rather than simply compensating income or financial outflows or even facilitating them, as might occur when aid is tied to conditions of financial liberalisation and deregulation. Hence, it is possible that some conditionalities undermine the redistributive impact of aid, even whilst the aid is justified in terms of addressing this financial need for redistribution.

On the other hand, the project investigates how such influences play into the political economy surrounding the evolution of social policy in recipient countries, as a key realm of redistribution and distributive struggles within these countries. In particular, certain models of social protection have been vigorously promoted by donors since the early 2000s, often against the resistance of recipient country governments, in tension with alternative policy objectives envisaged by such governments in contexts where public resources are, in general, severely constrained. The concern of the research also stems from the fact that these models are characterised by narrow forms of targeting that in many cases encourage fragmentation, stratification and segregation in social protection and provisioning systems, rather than more comprehensive, integrated, cross-class, and even universalistic approaches, as often preferred by many recipient country governments (although sometimes not in the case of the more conservative ones).

The specific policy case of social protection – in particular cash transfers – brings together these two strands of research given that donors have at least notionally directed significant portions of aid towards the promotion of cash transfers. This is despite the fact that these are domestic social expenditures, denominated in domestic currency, which can in principle be financed domestically and do not require the foreign exchange that aid represents. In the initial proposal of this project, the latter point was presented as a financial quandary or a ‘monetary transformation dilemma’ facing the transfer of aid from foreign to domestic resources. The PI contended that this dilemma implicates a range of complex and politicised processes in macroeconomic policy. The increasing emphasis of domestic expenditures by donors would therefore tend to exacerbate the politicised controversies and power struggles already involved within donor-recipient relations, as well as within the recipient countries themselves, from macroeconomic conditionalities to negotiations regarding domestic spending commitments. The implications, he argued, require a serious rethink of many of the accepted premises in the political economy of aid and related literatures, in particular highlighting the often-contradictory tensions that recipient governments must deal with in order to preserve policy space in the face of various international development agendas and aid modalities. In this sense, cash transfers serve as an ideal way to examine both domestic tensions surrounding social policy evolution and the often-contradictory pressures brought by donors to adopt particular paths of policy making, within policy areas that do not require external financial resources and that have been traditionally considered to be the sovereign domain of domestic politics.

Indeed, these tensions are exemplified by our observation that many developing country governments fund their own preferred social protection programmes entirely from their own domestic fiscal resources, even whilst the notional funding of targeted cash transfers with aid is justified in terms of fiscal constraints. The fact that these other programmes are generally much larger than the donor-endorsed cash transfer programmes belies the claim that external resources are required for the latter. Rather, it appears that the adoption of donor-endorsed programmes such as cash transfers is often used strategically by many recipient governments. For instance, it might serve as a means to superficially demonstrate acquiescence to donor demands or expectations as part of government efforts to mobilise foreign resources for broader development purposes and/or balance of payments support. If and when donors perceive these government strategies, it exacerbates their concerns with the government’s commitment and transparency. These types of tensions highlight a fundamental, even though implicit, difference of views regarding the purpose of aid. One is that aid is primarily concerned with the supply of foreign exchange, as an instrument of international redistribution, while domestic policy making is a sovereign preserve. The other is that aid is primarily an instrument of influencing recipient government policy, while its redistributive role is uncritically taken for granted.

However, even where cash transfer programmes are introduced in a marginal manner and without strong government commitment, they can nonetheless carry important political economy and institutional inertia, such as when certain sections of the political and bureaucratic elite derive power resources and vested interests from these donor-lobbied programmes. Hence, an important domestic elite constituency can form to support the maintenance and expansion of these policies, even though this constituency is in general heavily reliant on external relations with donors and IFIs for their power resources. In most of the cases we are researching, this elite constituency is also associated with very few or no popular mobilisations or political movements supporting such programmes, especially not from the poor or working classes themselves. The lack of popular mobilisation is particularly interesting given that such mobilisations are conventionally assumed in the social policy literature (dominated by a northern perspective) to be a condition for social policy expansion.

This dissonance highlights the importance of adjusting our theoretical and analytical frames in countries characterised by high degrees of external dominance and orientation, as well as strong degrees of polarisation and disarticulation between elites and the bulk of the population. The fact that cash transfer programmes appear to instil an institutional inertia of their own within such contexts, despite the lack of proximate factors conventionally assumed to be important for social policy expansion, provides important insights into both the social policy and institutionalist literatures. The implications – particularly where relatively small influences from the margins might gradually catalyse a transformation of a system – are very important for understanding the nature of external pressure, the evolution of social policy systems, and the nature of institutional change more generally in such circumstances.


The initial research proposal started from the question of how, in light of the monetary transformation dilemma, the emphasise of social protection effected donor strategies of influence, donor-recipient relations, and domestic fiscal and monetary politics within recipient countries. This question was meant to be an exploratory starting point and did not lend itself to a precise delineation of dependent and independent variables, which is appropriate given the deeply interwoven interdependency of historically-contextualised variables of interest, rendering the independence of any particular proximate factor difficult to establish in a convincing manner.

However, through the course of our research, in particular our field research, we gradually re-oriented our core guiding research question. This was partly because the monetary transformation dilemma did not appear to be as important as initially presumed, or at least, no longer, whereas it was clearly important in most of our case countries in the early to mid-2000s. It has since been eclipsed by the rapid expansion of other sources of external finance over the last ten years, which have been associated with the revival of growth in these countries and has resulted in substantial reductions in the relative importance of aid in even our most aid-dependent cases. That being said, the monetary transformation dilemma remains relevant with regard to large and lumpy new sources of private finance, such as the international bond financing that has become prevalent in all but one of our cases. Similarly, in most of our cases, central banks had shifted from trying to control money supply in the late 1990s and early 2000s to inflation targeting, and their management of aid flows has become more passive as a result. Instead of a focus on the monetary transformation dilemma, our fieldwork also led us to investigate more broadly donor and IFI strategies of influencing or interacting with domestic political economy dynamics, through both financial and non-financial means. Indeed, this was already envisaged in the original proposal, as a means of exploring other contending explanations regarding the initial research question.

Our current operational question has been reoriented towards the dynamics of external pressure on social protection policy diffusion. In particular, we are interested in the success of such diffusion in influencing a relatively uniform adoption of cash transfers across developing countries. The model in question is a narrowly targeted, residualist, and somewhat conservative segregationist approach to social protection and provisioning. We differ in this respect from the dominant focus in the literatures on social protection and policy diffusion, which emphasise variation and diversity. Our contention is that the focus on variation, at least with regards to cash transfer programmes, often amounts to focusing on the trees, or even the branches and leaves, rather than the forest. Rather, a strong uniformity in the overall model is apparent, viewed through a broader social policy lens, despite differences in patterns of precise uptake and implementation. Hence, we ask why this uniformity has occurred and, if we accept the role of external influence, how large donors and IFIs have influenced this outcome across a range of countries, in interaction with other political economy dynamics. This also requires answering the more descriptive question about what has been the evolution of social provisioning and social protection systems in these countries, over which both domestic political economy and external influences have come to bear. The latter question requires some research into qualifying the nature of both cash transfer programmes and the broader social protection and social provisioning systems in each country, in terms of how they interact and whether cash transfers have had intended or unintended strategic effects on the evolution of these systems.

As detailed in the original proposal, these questions are being researched through a mixed-method within-country and cross-country comparative case study approach applied to seven developing country cases (Cambodia and Philippines in Asia, Ethiopia, Ghana and Zambia in Africa, and Ecuador and Paraguay in Latin America). The approach combines quantitative research on balance of payments and financing constraints with qualitative process tracing based on elite interviews and documentary research. The particularly novel aspects of the research include the approach of iteratively integrating the quantitative and qualitative research through inductive rather than deductive methods, and also the elite interview strategy of targeting key actors that are technically involved in the nodes of disbursing and managing aid flows in both donor organisations and recipient governments, and with experiential knowledge of the financial processes involved, given that such people are rarely interviewed on these matters. Both aspects offer considerable potential for ground breaking results in theoretical, empirical and methodological findings.

Importance to society

The research has strong importance to society for several reasons. First, while many have argued that there has been a decline in external pressure or influence from donors or IFIs, important channels of influence nonetheless continue to exist and are exerted in often quite powerful ways. Notably, the arguments of a decline in influence are generally substantiated through a marshalling of rather crude evidence, such as volumes of aid or finance, either in nominal amounts or as proportions of GDP and/or fiscal resources, sometimes even from single institutions such as the World Bank. We suggest, however, that the channels of influence have become subtler and more sophisticated, such that less overt or coercive pressure is required to achieve similar or even greater degrees of influence than during the period of structural adjustment programmes in the 1980s and 1990s. Indeed, we have observed in our fieldwork that the diffusion of cash transfers has occurred so smoothly in some cases that many domestic policy actors involved in the processes of diffusion might even perceive the programmes as nationally-driven or ‘owned’, despite evidence of external influence and conformity to the dominant models being advocated internationally.

This refinement in the exercise of influence has arguably been in continuity with the trend started in the 1990s within the so-called ‘Post Washington Consensus’ of extending the conditionalities of structural adjustment policies in the 1980s to include new forms of implicit political conditionality, rather than representing a shift away from the traditional macroeconomic conditionalities per se. In many cases, such external forms of influence operate in such a manner that they are concealed or even presented as constituting national ownership, such as when governments impose on themselves degrees of self-discipline in order to make themselves appealing sources of external finance. Such examples have been noted in Africa, for instance, where many countries lowered trade tariffs even below the levels required of them by the World Trade Organisation and other trade agreements. In our cases, similar types of zealousness might be observed in terms of fiscal restraint or in the narrow targeting of social protection policies, although as noted above, this is often in tension domestic political dynamics. It is also notable in this respect the degree to which donor agendas come to be adopted and internalised by certain state actors, and presented or even perceived by them as if these agendas were domestically generated and/or led, as noted above. Our contention is that this is driven by more than just the diffusion of ideational norms and that the academic literature on external pressure has lagged behind these developments and trends, again due to fairly rudimentary ways o
f identifying or measuring external pressure or influence, especially in contexts of polarised power relations and highly externalised incentive systems for elite actors.

A second reason for social importance concerns the ways that social policy systems are being shaped in these countries through these processes, towards narrowly targeted, fragmented and segregated modes of provisioning. A poignant example has been the recent 2017 evaluation of the IMF’s position on social protection, which proposed further work by the IMF in this area, in particular continuing its recent push for reforms to social security, welfare and labour systems, and compensating such retrenchments with the narrow targeting of social protection. This has been strongly criticised from various quarters, including a letter signed by 53 economists, one of whom is the PI of this project. One of the arguments in this letter, sent to the IMF directors, is that IMF staff do not have expertise in this area, evidenced by the fact that they look at social protection expenditures primarily from a fiscal viewpoint, as a cost that can be cut in order to reduce fiscal deficits, ignoring the negative social impacts that austerity cuts may cause or the important synergistic effects that social spending can have on broader development processes. The importance of our research project is illustrated by the fact that the IMF continues to push for the narrowing of social protection in an increasing array of developing countries and to oppose more universalistic approaches often preferred by such countries (e.g. see here).

In particular, our project highlights how organisations that have traditionally been involved in matters related to the stability of the international monetary system have been continuing to leverage their influence on such matters to push strongly contested policy agendas within the domestic sphere of policy making in developing countries (as well as within Europe). We suggest (as do some of our external experts) that this increasing wedding of international financial stability management concerns with domestic social policy making is reflective of the increasing openness of economic systems to international finance and the increasing embedding of international creditors within domestic financial systems, including their increasing financial mediation of domestic fiscal resources. As a result, social policy increasingly becomes a concern of international financial stability, in particular through the fiscal channel. Our research is able to centrally address these developments precisely because it deals simultaneously with both sides of the coin, unlike most research on aid, social protection or policy diffusion, that typically lacks simultaneous focus or expertise on either macroeconomic management or on social policy.

The currently tightening financial cycle further vindicates the urgency of this research. The tightening cycle already instigated a swath of currency crises from 2013 up to 2016, hence the current pressures by the IMF for ‘fiscal consolidation’, as noted above. Although the external environment appears to have stabilised since then, it remains unclear if this respite can be sustained in the present or near future, particularly given the rapidly increasing levels of external indebtedness and weakening balance of payments positions that many developing countries have experienced, partly as a consequence of the tightening and as a means to deal with it. This therefore raises the spectre of re-emerging stringent balance of payments constraints facing many of these countries and the need for concessional external financing, while simultaneously reinforcing the leverage of donors as strategic providers of such finance, or as the strategic endorsers for private supplies of finance. In this context, recipient governments must play a taut balancing act of preserving policy space between foreign exchange needs on one hand and appeasing donor agendas and concerns on the other. This becomes especially pertinent given the above concerns regarding the IMF position on social protection. Indeed, one of the important insights coming out of our fieldwork is that, in many respects, the IMF leads the way in imposing conditionalities and constraints on the ways that developing countries can develop their social security systems. This then allows other donors or organisations to follow in the wake without the appearance that they are imposing conditionalities, even though these are implicit in their preconditions that countries have the approval of IMF programmes or article 4 consultations.

More generally, a fundamental objective of the research is to re-orient our thinking on these issues for a deeper appreciation of the systemic political as well as economic challenges facing global redistribution towards poorer countries, particularly with respect to supporting the development of comprehensive social policy systems in such countries, while at the same time respecting ownership over national processes of policy making. In this respect, the research opens up important theoretical, empirical and policy insights into the often-counterintuitive political economy implications of dominant contemporary aid strategies and, by implication, into the dilemmas facing redistribution at a global level. Theoretically, the research revives the classical understanding of the role of aid as a financial flow within national and global imbalances and additionally adds a novel contemporary angle to this classical understanding by examining associated political economy dynamics.

Methodologically, the research also complements standard macro approaches to the study of aid effectiveness by engaging with mid-range theory based on comparative historical explanations rather than cross-country statistical analysis. At the same time, the inductive and fieldwork-based approach is common in more micro studies, such as in anthropological studies of aid interventions, although it is rare in macro-level cross-country comparisons that carry more potential for systemic insights, particularly at a supra-national level. Hence, this research project will have an impact on refining this middle-way methodology of mixed-method interdisciplinary analysis on multiple scales.

In terms of societal and policy impact, a key aim is to inform policy making about the underlying political as well as economic conditions that could support the (re)construction of a more effective aid system and an international financial architecture that are genuinely redistributive towards the poorest countries and in ways that do not undermine national self-determination or reinforce structural dependency. The focus of the research on domestic social expenditures is especially important in this regard given the strong consensus among donors about the necessity of orienting international aid towards such expenditures. This makes it very important to understand the implications of various donor strategies, both in terms of the policies advocated and in terms of the particular contradictions that can become manifest within different tangents in these strategies, such as between macroeconomic stability versus aid absorption, or between notions of ownership versus transparency.

This societal/policy objective has been maximised in the research project through the strong collaboration with the external experts and their networks among donors, international organisations, and most importantly across the Global South, as detailed in the original proposal. The strategy of engaging these experts throughout the course of the project is intended to guarantee that the results of the research are both strongly relevant for policy (in particular, relevance as perceived by Southern counterparts) and that this relevance will also translate into a strong impact on policy through the respective networks. The workshop and symposium organised in February 2017 (see below) was already a large step towards this objective. The eventual open access website will also serve this purpose. Finally, one aim towards the end of the project will be to disseminate the research results back to the interviewees of the project.

Lastly, the insights of the research could also be transferred to other important issues on the global agenda such as climate financing, insofar as these also involve the domestic absorption of external financial resources as an important consideration, and in terms of many of the political economy dynamics studies, which share much in common with other aspects of public policy making.
Under the auspices of the project, the PI has so far published four publications (two journal articles, one in an A-rated journal, and two working papers, all single authored). The two working papers serve as the analytical foundation of the project. The PI has an additional a single authored book that is in the final stages of production and that should be released by summer 2018. The post-doc on the project (hired with the overheads – see below) has also submitted two papers to leading A-journals in the field. With the rest of the team, we are currently in the course of producing around 10 article submissions, as well as policy briefs, discussion and working papers. Due to the late start of the PhD students for reasons beyond our control, we decided to postpone the production of the first series of working papers until after the fieldwork stage of the project.

So far, all publications have been published open access (gold standard) without cost to the project. The first journal article was part of a forum that was already funded for open access, and the second fell under the purview of an agreement between Dutch universities and Wiley for all publications from academics based at Dutch universities to be published open access.

As an additional achievement, the PI won the 2015 International Studies in Poverty Prize in February 2016, awarded by Comparative Research Programme on Poverty (CROP), with its secretariat based in Bergen, Norway. This was based on his proposal and preliminary work on his first single authored book for the project, which is now in a stage of near-completion (Poverty as Ideology: Rescuing Social Justice from Global Development Agendas). The book will be published open access by Zed Books, as part of an arrangement with CROP.

Other major achievements include establishing the research team. This included inducting the three PhD researchers, and getting them through their first year (which they all passed successfully) and started on their fieldwork by the beginning of the third year of the project as planned. All of this was achieved very successfully (as described below) and was the dominant focus of the first two years of the research project. The recruitment of the PhD candidates took place through an open and competitive international call for applications in spring 2015, which generated over 60 applications for the three positions. As noted below, the three candidates selected were each from one of the case countries, although they also happened to be the strongest candidates. They started their PhDs in February 2016.

The PI also negotiated with the HI to use part of the overhead of the project to finance a three-year post-doc to replace his teaching and also to support the project. The recruitment for this position also occurred through an open competitive international call in spring 2015, which generated over 60 applications. The postdoc who was selected – a graduate from London School of Economics in the UK – started her position in October 2015.

When the team was finally assembled in February 2016, we then ran a weekly series of PhD research seminars throughout 2016, focused on theoretical, empirical and methodological themes related to the research project. The aim was to build up a strong shared understanding in the team about the project and its position in the broader academic literature, to strengthen our team collaboration, and to also give a strong training for the students to pass the first year of their PhDs, referred to at the HI as the Dissertation Design Seminar (DDS) and effectively the equivalent to an upgrade seminar in the UK system. All three PhD students passed this stage very successfully by late January / early February 2017, within a year of starting their degree.

Soon after, the PhDs left for their fieldwork at the end of February or March 2017. The PI then joined them to work together in the field (this phase is still ongoing), first in Ecuador and Paraguay from May-August 2017, with the Ecuadorian PhD student. The fieldwork in Latin America also included one field visit by the PI to Lima, Peru, to conduct some interviews there in July/August 2017, as well as the participation of the PhD student in a workshop on social protection policy organised by the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and in the Caribbean in Santiago de Chile in May 2017. The latter was designed primarily for regional policy makers and gave the PhD student many key contacts in the region. Subsequently, the PI then spent time with the Ghanian PhD student in Zambia in September 2017 (and will follow up in spring 2018 with a visit to Ghana and Ethiopia), and then with the Philippine PhD student in Cambodia in November (and will be visiting Philippines in March 2018, while she is still there). The postdoc, who is also Philippine, also spent time with the Philippine PhD student closer to the beginning of her fieldwork in Philippines, in June 2017, while the PI was in South America.

These moments spent working together in fieldwork have been extremely useful for the training that the PI and postdoc have been able to give the PhD students and also in supporting the research of the PI and postdoc. During these visits, the PI has focused on the finer details of monetary policy and macroeconomic management, primarily through interviews with central bank and finance ministry officials, while the PhD students have been crucial in setting up meetings with such officials before the arrival of the PI, hence making his relatively short field visits extremely productive, with two to three extensive elite interviews a day. Indeed, the synergies that have been generated from this way of working together have been extremely beneficial. In addition to this, each of the PhD students has conducted from 60-100 elite interviews in each country, each interview lasting from one to two hours on average, sometimes longer.

Lastly, the PI also managed to recruit one additional PhD student into the project to support the work on Ethiopia. This student joined the PhD programme at the HI as a second-year student, in a double degree with Santa’Anna University in Pisa, Italy, based on related research on Ethiopia. Her research is funded by an Italian scholarship and hence comes at no cost to the ERC project. She will be joining the PI and the Ghanian PhD student for fieldwork in Ethiopia.


Another major achievement of the project has been in dissemination. Extensive dissemination activities have been conducted, mainly by the PI, including collaboration with other research networks and initiatives. For instance, the second journal article of the PI is an output of collaborating in one of these networks. These collaborations and networking have been central to our research approach. As presented in the original description of action, our aim has been to make presentations of the conceptual and analytical foundations of the research, and the empirical and theoretical insights and frameworks that inform the research project, as a way of sharing these as much as possible with peers and policy makers in order to illicit feedback, reactions and debate, and to test the solidity of our assumptions, logic, and initial findings.

This culminated in the workshop and symposium that we organised at the HI in February 2017. The first day of this event – the workshop – involved presenting our work (successive presentations by the PI, the postdoc and then the three PhD students who had just passed their first-year upgrade) to a gathering of about 35 leading international scholars and policy makers specialised in either the external financing of development or in social protection. The policy makers were mostly from the UN system, as well as some national policy makers from The Netherlands and from some of the case study countries, and most of them were also former academics with PhDs. This important knowledge exchange also helped to reveal some of the points of distinction between the academic and policy making communities on certain issues related to social protection in particular (such as understandings of universalism in social policy, etc.). The symposium that followed over the next two days continued this exchange, except in an open setting, attended by over 100 people at various points throughout the two days.

We have also established very meaningful working relations with five Southern partners, all university-based, in five of our case countries, Paraguay, Ethiopia, Zambia, Philippines and Cambodia, and we are planning research collaboration and co-publishing with them, as specified in our ethics objectives in the ethics annex of the Description of Action and subsequent ethics explanations (e.g. the SEN). In Paraguay, we have additionally been invited to support the work of the Social Cabinet, which coordinates social protection policies and programmes across all of the government ministries, and the Ecuadorian PhD student has been following up on this. We will also host our local ethics advisor from Paraguay at the HI in the fall 2018. She was previously involved in government at a senior level on social protection polices, attended the symposium in February 2017, and has proven to be an enormous asset for the project during our fieldwork. We have also established connections with partner institutions in the two other countries (Ecuador and Ghana), but have yet to develop these into more concrete collaborations.

Finally, an important part of the knowledge transfer of this project is based on the fact that each of the three PhD students (and the one postdoc) on the project are from one of the case countries – the PhD student researching the Latin American cases is from Ecuador, with experience in government; the student researching the African cases is from Ghana, also with government experience; and the PhD student researching the South East Asian cases and the postdoc are from the Philippines, the PhD with NGO experience and the postdoc with university and government experience.
The iterative inductive approach used in the project to analyse trends in the structure of balance of payments as a means to identify their potentially constraining and compelling influences on the political economy of public policy is novel within the literatures on aid, on the political economy of social protection, on institutional change, and on policy diffusion, which are our main comparison literatures. In these literatures, quantitative work is mostly restricted to deductive econometric approaches, usually cross-country, which the PI has argued are not able to identify the important dynamics and processes that we are researching, and lacks potential for interdisciplinary research (as opposed to multi-disciplinary work, which is how it is usually combined). Qualitative work, however, mostly exhibits a weak engagement with complex quantitative evidence, such as with respect to the complex interactions of external flows with fiscal systems, which are very difficult if not impossible to statistically model without losing the richness of complexity, but that nonetheless demand serious (inductive) quantitative investigation.

As detailed in the Description of Action and above, our interdisciplinary approach derives from this combination of macroeconomic and international finance research on the role of external financing, with political research on the policy processes related to the adoption, design and implementation of social protection policies in the case countries, under the strong advocacy by donors and international financial institutions through both financial and non-financial channels. The integration of these two aspects of the project is ongoing. The quantitative macroeconomic work has been mostly conducted by the PI. The insights from this have been used to inform the more political research, which has been led by the PhD students in the field, although the PI spent time in each of the case countries with the PhD students while they were in the field, as a means to ensure this integration and also to allow the PI to conduct qualitative research on several specialised tangents, mainly with central bank and finance ministry officials. As the PhD students are returning from their fieldwork now, the integration will continue as we process the results from their fieldwork and work towards the production of a series of publications that will embody this interdisciplinary approach.

Our approach has already proven its effectiveness, by revealing potent avenues of inquiry that we have used in our qualitative interviews with government officials, in particular those from finance ministries and central banks. A notable example of this was during our research in Zambia. The PI was able to identify an anomaly that started to appear in the Zambian financial account following debt-relief in the 2000s, and in particular since the Global Financial Crisis in 2007-08. In our subsequent interviews with Central Bank officials in Zambia, we discovered that they were also trying to figure out this anomaly. It appears that the anomaly represents illicit or unreported profit remittances or financial outflows. Indeed, the anomaly was the intentional creation of the central bank based on their observation of discrepancies between their own national reporting versus the reporting of assets held by Zambian residents by international banks to the Bank of International Settlements, which led them to believe that the discrepancies belonged in this category rather than in the more usual category of errors and omissions (which would have of course raised alarm bells, given the magnitude of these flows). While these choices might be justified, they effectively hide the discrepancies in an otherwise orderly balance of payments. Drawing from these iterative insights, the PI estimated that profit remittances or their equivalent are more to the tune of 15-20% of GDP, rather than the 5% reported in the current account, and are most likely dominated by international mining companies in the copper sector. The PI is writing an article on this issue, entitled ‘Haemorrhaging Zambia’, to be submitted to a leading social science journal in the field of African Studies.

Other theoretical contributions that we have not yet published but have presented in several conferences also emerge out of the research. One is our critique of the dominant consensus in the policy diffusion and related political economy literatures that plays down if not dismisses the role of external pressure by donors and IFIs in influencing the policy trajectories of various developing countries, in contrast to contextually-specific domestic political economy and ideational factors. This is based on the relative degree of freedom that countries manifest in their ability to adopt different policies, or to adopt policies in different ways. While such research has made important contributions to understand how various aid-dependent countries can maneuver within the constraints of dependence, we argue that it has nonetheless discouraged more systemic assessments of coercion or other forms of external pressure operating within aid relations, in ways that condition or pre-determine manoeuvrability in fundamental ways. Moreover, we argue that most of the regression analysis testing for external pressure has been ineffective in identifying such aspects of external pressure given that it is mostly conducted on the basis of obtuse, inappropriate and/or poorly conceived variables. We therefore argue for an urgent reassessment, particularly at a time when many developing countries are experiencing virulent reassertions of external constraints, which reinforce the leverage of donors even in situations where aid might only amount to a marginal addition to overall external financing needs. The social protection agenda serves to highlight this reassessment given the broader degree of homogeneity in the policy models adopted, even though differences might emerge in implementation, as mentioned above. We draw structural and institutional insights from our research as a means to elaborate more nuanced understandings of how power is exercised through strategic marginal financial contributions within broader patterns of financial integration. We have also coined the term ‘institutional embeddedness’ to describe the increasingly normalised insertion of donors into domestic policy making, even where donors have little or no obvious financial clout. The paper that is currently being written on this topic is a team effort, led by the PI and with contributions from all the team members.

Another theoretical contribution, elaborated specifically by the PI, concerns a critique of the currently dominant foci in the political economy literature on social policy in developing countries. This is predominantly approached from either a historical institutionalist perspective (or its discursive tangent) or from more deductive perspectives deriving from public economics or the now-popular political settlements perspective. The PI argues for a return to more inductive forms of political economy analysis that take historically contextualised politics and economics more inherently and explicitly as their starting point of theorisation, particularly with respect to the relation of contemporary social policy evolution in developing countries to the evolution of neoliberalism and globalised capitalism.

Other more empirical contributions currently in production include:

• A methodological critique of the dominant way of measuring aid absorption in the specialized literature on the macro-economics of aid and how this substantially over-estimates the amount of aid absorption – and hence redistribution – that has actually been occurring over the course of the last twenty to thirty years, and also hides profit remittances or interest payments on debt by including these are part of absorption (the PI);
• the above-mentioned analysis of Zambian balance of payments discrepancies and illicit profit remittances (the PI);
• a balance of payments assessment of proto-developmentalism in Ethiopia (drawing from the framework for understanding this based on recently published work; the PI with collaboration from colleagues in Ethiopia);
• a political economy analysis of the sudden demise of social protection in Ecuador from 2013 onwards (the PI with the Ecuadorian PhD student);
• the ambiguous conceptual tension between social security and social work in recent social protection models promoted by various international donors and organizations, particularly those emphasizing human capital, and the impact of such discursive ambiguities on priorities in policy making; evidence draws in particular from the Latin American cases (PI and Ecuadorian PhD student);
• a political economy analysis of the conditions that brought about the expansion of cash transfers and elderly pensions in Paraguay (by the Ecuadorian PhD student);
• the political economy of social registers and their perverse consequences on the development of social policy systems (whole team);
• an analysis of aid modalities in financing social protection (the postdoc);
• an analysis of the expansion of targeted health insurance in Philippines (the postdoc and Philippine PhD student);
• and other empirical work coming out of the fieldwork of the Ghanian and Philippine PhD students (with or without the PI and postdoc).

Other expected results by the end of the project include:
• three monograph-style PhD theses by each of the PhD students on the political economy of social protection in developing contexts of significant external influence and finance, together with derivative publications from these theses;
• an additional single-authored book by the PI and another co-authored with the team;
• several further publications by the post-doc;
• a series of working papers, discussion papers, or policy briefs published by the team and with several of the external experts, particularly those who we have come to collaborate with in the fieldwork – the policy briefs in particular will aim to enhance social relevance and policy impact;
• further dissemination activities, including convening panels at various conferences, convening an international conference on the project theme at the HI, and related activities;
• further engagement with external experts, as well as with case country ethics advisors and academic collaborators;
• and finally, engagement and dissemination activities with various policy making actors in the case countries, in particular as a means to feed back the research results to those that we engaged with during our fieldwork.