A social norm in which people deserve access to electricity regardless of payment may actually be undermining efforts for universal access
Nearly a billion people around the world are not connected to the electricity grid, and even more have unreliable access. In this VoxDevTalk, Robin Burgess discusses his paper with Michael Greenstone, Nicholas Ryan, and Anant Sudarshan in which the authors argue that a social norm that all people deserve access to electricity regardless of payment may actually be undermining the universal access called for in Sustainable Development Goal 7. When people feel no compulsion to pay for the electricity they use, whether or not they are able to, government-owned distribution companies need to ration supply to limit their losses, either by enforcing blackouts or restricting access. This tends to affect those living in the poorer areas of countries more, and research on the relationship between electricity consumption and GDP suggests that it also has a macro impact on economic growth. One possible way to move from this low-payment, low-access equilibrium to a high-payment, high-access one is for governments to provide targeted subsidies towards getting connected to the grid, and for people to then pay for the electricity they use.