IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/a/aea/jecper/v28y2014i4p99-120.html
   My bibliography  Save this article

Why Do Developing Countries Tax So Little?

Author

Listed:
  • Timothy Besley
  • Torsten Persson

Abstract

Low-income countries typically collect taxes of between 10 to 20 percent of GDP while the average for high-income countries is more like 40 percent. In order to understand taxation, economic development, and the relationships between them, we need to think about the forces that drive the development process. Poor countries are poor for certain reasons, and these reasons can also help to explain their weakness in raising tax revenue. We begin by laying out some basic relationships regarding how tax revenue as a share of GDP varies with per capita income and with the breadth of a country's tax base. We sketch a baseline model of what determines a country's tax revenue as a share of GDP. We then turn to our primary focus: why do developing countries tax so little? We begin with factors related to the economic structure of these economies. But we argue that there is also an important role for political factors, such as weak institutions, fragmented polities, and a lack of transparency due to weak news media. Moreover, sociological and cultural factors- such as a weak sense of national identity and a poor norm for compliance- may stifle the collection of tax revenue. In each case, we suggest the need for a dynamic approach that encompasses the two-way interactions between these political, social, and cultural factors and the economy.

Suggested Citation

  • Timothy Besley & Torsten Persson, 2014. "Why Do Developing Countries Tax So Little?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 28(4), pages 99-120, Fall.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:28:y:2014:i:4:p:99-120
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.28.4.99
    as

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/jep.28.4.99
    Download Restriction: no

    File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/jep/data/2804/28040099_data.zip
    Download Restriction: no

    File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/jep/ds/2804/28040099_ds.zip
    Download Restriction: no
    ---><---

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Roberts, Kevin W. S., 1977. "Voting over income tax schedules," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 8(3), pages 329-340, December.
    2. Benjamin A. Olken, 2007. "Monitoring Corruption: Evidence from a Field Experiment in Indonesia," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 115, pages 200-249.
    3. Dincecco,Mark, 2013. "Political Transformations and Public Finances," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9781107617759.
    4. Timothy Besley & Torsten Persson, 2011. "Pillars of Prosperity: The Political Economics of Development Clusters," Economics Books, Princeton University Press, edition 1, number 9624.
    5. Henrik Jacobsen Kleven & Claus Thustrup Kreiner & Emmanuel Saez, 2016. "Why Can Modern Governments Tax So Much? An Agency Model of Firms as Fiscal Intermediaries," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 83(330), pages 219-246, April.
    6. Anders Jensen, 2011. "State-Building in Resource-Rich Economies," Atlantic Economic Journal, Springer;International Atlantic Economic Society, vol. 39(2), pages 171-193, June.
    7. Baunsgaard, Thomas & Keen, Michael, 2010. "Tax revenue and (or?) trade liberalization," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 94(9-10), pages 563-577, October.
    8. Lee, Young & Gordon, Roger H., 2005. "Tax structure and economic growth," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(5-6), pages 1027-1043, June.
    9. Benno Torgler, 2007. "Tax Compliance and Tax Morale," Books, Edward Elgar Publishing, number 4096.
    10. Ritva Reinikka & Jakob Svensson, 2005. "Fighting Corruption to Improve Schooling: Evidence from a Newspaper Campaign in Uganda," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 3(2-3), pages 259-267, 04/05.
    11. Allingham, Michael G. & Sandmo, Agnar, 1972. "Income tax evasion: a theoretical analysis," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 1(3-4), pages 323-338, November.
    12. Frank A. Cowell, 1990. "Cheating the Government: The Economics of Evasion," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262532484, December.
    13. Acemoglu,Daron & Robinson,James A., 2009. "Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521671422.
    14. Brian Erard & Jonathan Feinstein, 1994. "The Role of Moral Sentiments and Audit Perceptions in Tax Compliance," Carleton Industrial Organization Research Unit (CIORU) 94-03, Carleton University, Department of Economics.
    15. Fearon, James D, 2003. "Ethnic and Cultural Diversity by Country," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 8(2), pages 195-222, June.
    16. Romer, Thomas, 1975. "Individual welfare, majority voting, and the properties of a linear income tax," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 4(2), pages 163-185, February.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Most related items

    These are the items that most often cite the same works as this one and are cited by the same works as this one.
    1. Timothy Besley, 2013. "Making and Breaking Tax Systems," The Economic and Social Review, Economic and Social Studies, vol. 44(3), pages 297-321.
    2. Timothy Besley, 2020. "State Capacity, Reciprocity, and the Social Contract," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 88(4), pages 1307-1335, July.
    3. Timothy Besley & Torsten Persson, 2011. "Pillars of Prosperity: The Political Economics of Development Clusters," Economics Books, Princeton University Press, edition 1, number 9624.
    4. Fjeldstad, Odd-Helge & Kagoma, Cecilia & Mdee, Ephraim & Sjursen, Ingrid Hoem & Somville, Vincent, 2020. "The customer is king: Evidence on VAT compliance in Tanzania," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 128(C).
    5. Timothy Besley & Anders Jensen & Torsten Persson, 2023. "Norms, Enforcement, and Tax Evasion," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 105(4), pages 998-1007, July.
    6. Rainald Borck, 2009. "Voting on redistribution with tax evasion," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer;The Society for Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 32(3), pages 439-454, March.
    7. Persson, Torsten & Besley, Tim, 2013. "Taxation and Development," CEPR Discussion Papers 9307, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    8. Pickhardt, Michael & Prinz, Aloys, 2014. "Behavioral dynamics of tax evasion – A survey," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 40(C), pages 1-19.
    9. Sagit Leviner, 2008. "An overview: A new era of tax enforcement – from “big stick” to responsive regulation," Regulation & Governance, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 2(3), pages 360-380, September.
    10. repec:cep:stieop:41 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. Alm, James & Bernasconi, Michele & Laury, Susan & Lee, Daniel J. & Wallace, Sally, 2017. "Culture, compliance, and confidentiality: Taxpayer behavior in the United States and Italy," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 140(C), pages 176-196.
    12. Haldane, Andrew & Shanbhogue, Rachana & Attanasio, Orazio & Besley, Timothy & Lindert, Peter & Piketty, Thomas & Ventura, Jaume, 2015. "Capital in the 21st century," Bank of England Quarterly Bulletin, Bank of England, vol. 55(1), pages 36-46.
    13. James Alm, 2019. "What Motivates Tax Compliance?," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 33(2), pages 353-388, April.
    14. Stefanos A. Tsikas, 2020. "Enforce taxes, but cautiously: societal implications of the slippery slope framework," European Journal of Law and Economics, Springer, vol. 50(1), pages 149-170, August.
    15. Vitor Gaspar & Laura Jaramillo & Mr. Philippe Wingender, 2016. "Tax Capacity and Growth: Is there a Tipping Point?," IMF Working Papers 2016/234, International Monetary Fund.
    16. Torgler, Benno & Schneider, Friedrich & Schaltegger, Christoph A., 2007. "With or Against the People? The Impact of a Bottom-Up Approach on Tax Morale and the Shadow Economy," Berkeley Olin Program in Law & Economics, Working Paper Series qt6331x6vz, Berkeley Olin Program in Law & Economics.
    17. Lourdes ROJAS RUBIO, 2022. "Inequality, Corruption and Support for Democracy," THEMA Working Papers 2022-20, THEMA (THéorie Economique, Modélisation et Applications), Université de Cergy-Pontoise.
    18. Dorsch, Michael T. & Maarek, Paul, 2020. "Economic downturns, inequality, and democratic improvements," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 62(C).
    19. Nordblom, Katarina, 2017. "Tax Morale and Policy Intervention," Working Papers in Economics 711, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economics.
    20. Dorsch Michael T. & Maarek Paul, 2014. "A Note on Economic Inequality and Democratization," Peace Economics, Peace Science, and Public Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 20(4), pages 1-12, December.
    21. Traxler, Christian, 2010. "Social norms and conditional cooperative taxpayers," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 26(1), pages 89-103, March.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • E23 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Production
    • E62 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook - - - Fiscal Policy; Modern Monetary Theory
    • H20 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - General
    • H26 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Tax Evasion and Avoidance
    • O17 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Formal and Informal Sectors; Shadow Economy; Institutional Arrangements
    • O23 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Development Planning and Policy - - - Fiscal and Monetary Policy in Development
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification

    Statistics

    Access and download statistics

    Corrections

    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:28:y:2014:i:4:p:99-120. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a bibliographic reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: Michael P. Albert (email available below). General contact details of provider: https://edirc.repec.org/data/aeaaaea.html .

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service. RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.