The trouble with money: Argentina’s conditional cash transfers

Abstract

Much work on conditional cash transfer programs (CCTs) focuses on the problem of conditionality. This paper, however, looks at the significance of the cash part of the equation for Argentina’s Asignación Universal por Hijo para Protección Social in the coastal city of Mar del Plata, Buenos Aires Province. Unsurprisingly, beneficiaries of cash transfers welcome these payments which have made a real difference in their life circumstances. Yet putting cash, in this case via electronic bank transfer, into the hands of Argentina’s poor mothers has a range of effects over and above the obvious material benefits. Building on the insights offered by scholars of money, in particular thinking about the qualities of fungibility and anonymity, the article shows how CCTs empower while constraining; they constitute women as economic citizens while requiring their incorporation into the bank system, under the gaze of state regulation; they fail, in this instance at least, to liberate mothers from the stigma of welfare.

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Fig. 1

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Although Sugiyama includes Argentina in this list because of its Programa Familias dating from 2004, the much more significant AUH discussed here was introduced in 2009. Guyana, Haiti, and Venezuela were the exceptions for Latin America and the Caribbean (Sugiyama 2011, p. 259). Similar programs now exist on every continent (Olivier de Sardan and Piccoli 2018).

  2. 2.

    I use here Harvey’s understanding of neoliberalism as a political philosophy which advocates particular political and economic programs (2005).

  3. 3.

    In Argentina, poverty and other economic statistics have been the subject of heated and ongoing debate and should be treated with caution.

  4. 4.

    In addition to Programa Familias mentioned in a prior note, many people connect the AUH to the Programa Jefes y Jefas de Hogar introduced in the midst of the 2001 economic crisis (Zibecchi 2014). Space does not permit, even in a footnote, an explanation of the many other programs that grew up around the AUH, to compliment or supplement it—including additional benefits (such as special fares and rates) or complimentary programs for older youth.

  5. 5.

    This concept has an additional political potency in the wake of the dictatorship in which children were stolen from their parents (Nosiglia 2007). From a very different angle, Gordillo (2006) describes the profound significance of identification for Toba and Wichi people in the Argentine Chaco.

  6. 6.

    The dramatic increase in bank accounts was accompanied by an increase in bank machines, but not of local banks which were, furthermore, very geographically unevenly distributed (Luzzi and Ariel 2018: 392–5).

  7. 7.

    The credits were available through a simple online process under the proviso that the debt will be paid off by the time the child’s benefit terminates and that the monthly payments not exceed 30% of the benefit (per child) at interest rates around 50% (because inflation is so high; ANSES 2019).

  8. 8.

    Sometimes the guaranteed basic income is called the “negative income tax.”

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Acknowledgements

The author particularly thanks Justine Correia for her crucial contributions, and also Rosi Franco, Daniel Salas and Vanesa Linares for assistance with transcription. Earlier version of this paper was presented at the symposium, “A los 10 años del AUH”, at the XIV Congreso Nacional de Ciencia Política, in San Martin, Argentina. It was also presented in the panel on Value and Politics at CASCA 2018, in Santiago, Cuba. The author thanks commentators at both venues, two anonymous reviewers and Daniel Salas for their helpful comments.

Funding

This research was made possible by funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Insight Development Grant. Justine Correia collected a substantial portion of the data employed here for her MA thesis, also supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada through a master’s scholarship.

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DuBois, L. The trouble with money: Argentina’s conditional cash transfers. Dialect Anthropol 45, 99–115 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10624-020-09617-y

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Keywords

  • Argentina
  • Conditional cash transfers
  • Money
  • Welfare
  • Mothers