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Informality and Development

Author

Listed:
  • Rafael La Porta
  • Andrei Shleifer

Abstract

In developing countries, informal firms account for up to half of economic activity. They provide livelihood for billions of people. Yet their role in economic development remains controversial with some viewing informality as pent-up potential and others viewing informality as a parasitic organizational form that hinders economic growth. In this paper, we assess these perspectives. We argue that the evidence is most consistent with dual models, in which informality arises out of poverty and the informal and formal sectors are very different. It seems that informal firms have low productivity and produce low- quality products; and, consequently, they do not pose a threat to the formal firms. Economic growth comes from the formal sector, that is, from firms run by educated entrepreneurs and exhibiting much higher levels of productivity. The expansion of the formal sector leads to the decline of the informal sector in relative and eventually absolute terms. A few informal firms convert to formality, but more generally they disappear because they cannot compete with the much more-productive formal firms.

Suggested Citation

  • Rafael La Porta & Andrei Shleifer, 2014. "Informality and Development," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 28(3), pages 109-126, Summer.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:28:y:2014:i:3:p:109-26
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.28.3.109
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Suresh de Mel & David McKenzie & Christopher Woodruff, 2013. "The Demand for, and Consequences of, Formalization among Informal Firms in Sri Lanka," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 5(2), pages 122-150, April.
    2. Erik Hurst & Benjamin Wild Pugsley, 2011. "What Do Small Businesses Do?," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 42(2 (Fall)), pages 73-142.
    3. Miguel Jaramillo, 2013. "Is there demand for formality among informal firms? Evidence from microfirms in downtown Lima," Avances de Investigación 0013, Grupo de Análisis para el Desarrollo (GRADE).
    4. Rauch, James E., 1991. "Modelling the informal sector formally," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 35(1), pages 33-47, January.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • E26 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Informal Economy; Underground Economy
    • J23 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Labor Demand
    • L25 - Industrial Organization - - Firm Objectives, Organization, and Behavior - - - Firm Performance
    • L26 - Industrial Organization - - Firm Objectives, Organization, and Behavior - - - Entrepreneurship
    • O14 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Industrialization; Manufacturing and Service Industries; Choice of Technology
    • O17 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Formal and Informal Sectors; Shadow Economy; Institutional Arrangements

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