Brazil's conditional cash transfer (CCT) program, Bolsa Família (from 2003 to the present), has been successful at reducing extreme poverty and inequality, while Argentina's similar initiative, Programa Familias (2003–2009), performed far worse. Why? This is the question driving Tracy Beck Fenwick's Avoiding Governors: Federalism, Democracy, and Poverty Alleviation in Brazil and Argentina. Its importance cannot be overstated, given that CCTs, especially Bolsa Família, have become the international model for policy aimed at blunting the edge of neoliberal austerity and stopping the intergenerational transmission of poverty.

Fenwick offers a sophisticated and well-written account of the institutional conditions that made Brazil a more fertile ground for CCTs than Argentina. The key factor is the two countries' differing distribution of power among the central, state/provincial, and municipal levels of government. Both countries are examples of “strong federalist” systems in which “subnational levels of government...

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