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The Informal Sector

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  • Aureo de Paula
  • Jose A. Scheinkman

Abstract

This paper investigates the determinants of informal economic activity. We present two equilibrium models of the determinants of informality and test their implications using a survey of 50,000+ small firms in Brazil. We define informality as tax avoidance; firms in the informal sector avoid tax payments but suffer other limitations. In the first model there is a single industry and informal firms face a higher cost of capital and a limitation on size. As a result informal firms are smaller and have a lower capital-labor ratio. These implications are supported by our empirical analysis. A novel theoretical contribution in this paper is a model that highlights the role of value added taxes in transmitting informality. It predicts that the informality of a firm is correlated to the informality of firms from which it buys or sells. The model also implies that higher tolerance for informal firms in one production stage increases tax avoidance in downstream and upstream sectors. Empirical analysis shows that, in fact, various measures of formality of suppliers and purchasers (and its enforcement) are correlated with the formality of a firm. Even more interestingly, when we look at sectors where Brazilian firms are not subject to the credit system of value added tax, but instead the value added tax is applied at some stage of production at a rate that is estimated by the State, this chain effect vanishes.
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Suggested Citation

  • Aureo de Paula & Jose A. Scheinkman, 2006. "The Informal Sector," Levine's Bibliography 122247000000001030, UCLA Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:cla:levrem:122247000000001030
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    File URL: http://www.econ.upenn.edu/~aureo/informalsector_011106.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Straub, Stéphane, 2005. "Informal sector: The credit market channel," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 78(2), pages 299-321, December.
    2. Emran, M. Shahe & Stiglitz, Joseph E., 2005. "On selective indirect tax reform in developing countries," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(4), pages 599-623, April.
    3. Fortin, Bernard & Marceau, Nicolas & Savard, Luc, 1997. "Taxation, wage controls and the informal sector," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 66(2), pages 293-312, November.
    4. James J. Heckman & Carmen Pagés, 2004. "Law and Employment: Lessons from Latin America and the Caribbean," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number heck04-1.
    5. Edward P. Lazear, 2005. "Entrepreneurship," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 23(4), pages 649-680, October.
    6. Almeida, Rita K. & Carneiro, Pedro, 2005. "Enforcement of Regulation, Informal Labor and Firm Performance," IZA Discussion Papers 1759, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    7. Almeida, Rita & Carneiro, Pedro, 2005. "Enforcement of labor regulation, informal labor, and firm performance," Policy Research Working Paper Series 3756, The World Bank.
    8. Koujianou Goldberg, Pinelopi & Pavcnik, Nina, 2003. "The response of the informal sector to trade liberalization," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 72(2), pages 463-496, December.
    9. William Maloney & Jairo Mendez, 2004. "Measuring the Impact of Minimum Wages. Evidence from Latin America," NBER Chapters,in: Law and Employment: Lessons from Latin America and the Caribbean, pages 109-130 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Loayza, Norman V., 1996. "The economics of the informal sector: a simple model and some empirical evidence from Latin America," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 45(1), pages 129-162, December.
    11. R. Hirschowitz, 1989. "The Other Path: The Invisible Revolution in the Third World," South African Journal of Economics, Economic Society of South Africa, vol. 57(4), pages 266-272, December.
    12. Rauch, James E., 1991. "Modelling the informal sector formally," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 35(1), pages 33-47, January.
    13. Jung, Young H. & Snow, Arthur & Trandel, Gregory A., 1994. "Tax evasion and the size of the underground economy," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 54(3), pages 391-402, July.
    14. Alan A. Tait, 1991. "Value-Added Tax; Administrative and Policy Issues," IMF Occasional Papers 88, International Monetary Fund.
    15. Dominik H. Enste & Friedrich Schneider, 2000. "Shadow Economies: Size, Causes, and Consequences," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 38(1), pages 77-114, March.
    16. Friedman, Eric & Johnson, Simon & Kaufmann, Daniel & Zoido-Lobaton, Pablo, 2000. "Dodging the grabbing hand: the determinants of unofficial activity in 69 countries," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 76(3), pages 459-493, June.
    17. Fajnzylber, Pablo & Maloney, William F. & Montes-Rojas, Gabriel V., 2009. "Does Formality Improve Micro-Firm Performance? Quasi-Experimental Evidence from the Brazilian SIMPLES Program," IZA Discussion Papers 4531, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    18. repec:hrv:faseco:30728045 is not listed on IDEAS
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H2 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue
    • H3 - Public Economics - - Fiscal Policies and Behavior of Economic Agents
    • K4 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior

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