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Informal Work, Risk, and Clientelism: Evidence from 223 Slums across India

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 April 2022

Emily Rains*
Affiliation:
Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, USA
Erik Wibbels
Affiliation:
Duke University, Durham, USA
*
*Corresponding author. Email: erains@lsu.edu

Abstract

Most of the poor in the developing world work in the informal economy, that is, in occupations that take place outside of the legal system of taxing, spending, and regulating. This article examines how informal work impacts the policy and electoral preferences of the poor. We emphasize the importance of the risks inherent in informal employment in shaping the responsiveness of citizens to clientelism and their policy and voting preferences. Since most informal workers are not covered by (formal) social insurance, they prefer material goods and candidates that produce targeted, clientelistic benefits rather than programmatically delivered insurance that is unlikely to reach them. As a result, we argue that informal workers are more likely to rely on clientelistic relations as a means of hedging risks than are formal workers; prefer policies that are delivered clientelistically via political mediators rather than programmatic solutions; and prefer clientelistic over programmatic local candidates. Our findings elucidate why the preferences of poor informal workers often diverge from those assumed by standard models of social insurance and have important implications for the political economy of social policy in a world where billions work outside work-based tax-transfer systems.

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Article
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Copyright © The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press

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