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Income Tax Flattening: Does It Help to Reduce the Shadow Economy?


  • Peter, Klara Sabirianova

    () (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)


This paper examines the effect of global transition to simpler, flatter income tax systems on the size of the shadow economy. By offering a new estimation framework, the paper revives the traditional electricity consumption approach to measuring the shadow economy. It overcomes the limitations of previous literature by using a new functional form, better quality data, a larger sample of 170 countries, a longer time span of 25 years, a panel framework, and instrumental variables. Our analysis provides strong evidence of a positive relationship between income tax rates and the size of the shadow economy. The effects of structural progressivity and complexity of national tax schedules are also found to be positive and statistically significant. These positive effects are reinforced when tax changes are accompanied by improving government services and strengthening the legal system. The flat tax is estimated to reduce the shadow economy in the short run, but this effect diminishes and disappears in the long run.

Suggested Citation

  • Peter, Klara Sabirianova, 2009. "Income Tax Flattening: Does It Help to Reduce the Shadow Economy?," IZA Discussion Papers 4223, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp4223

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Simon Johnson & Daniel Kaufman & Andrei Shleifer, 1997. "The Unofficial Economy in Transition," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 28(2), pages 159-240.
    2. Edgar L. Feige & Ivica Urban, 2003. "Estimating the Size and Growth of Unrecorded Economic Activity in Transition Countries: A Re-evaluation of Electric Consumption Method Estimates and their Implications," Macroeconomics 0311010, EconWPA.
    3. Michael Alexeev & William Pyle, 2001. "A Note on Measuring the Unofficial Economy in the Former Soviet Republics," William Davidson Institute Working Papers Series 436, William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan.
    4. Yuriy Gorodnichenko & Jorge Martinez-Vazquez & Klara Sabirianova Peter, 2009. "Myth and Reality of Flat Tax Reform: Micro Estimates of Tax Evasion Response and Welfare Effects in Russia," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 117(3), pages 504-554, June.
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    13. Peter, Klara Sabirianova & Buttrick, Steve & Duncan, Denvil, 2010. "Global Reform of Personal Income Taxation, 1981–2005: Evidence From 189 Countries," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 63(3), pages 447-478, September.
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    16. Rork, Jonathan C., 2003. "Coveting Thy Neighbors' Taxation," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 56(4), pages 775-787, December.
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    18. Richard A. Musgrave & Karl E. Case & Herman Leonard, 1974. "The Distribution of Fiscal Burdens and Benefits," Public Finance Review, , vol. 2(3), pages 259-311, July.
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    Cited by:

    1. Gindling,T. H. & Mossaad,Nadwa & Newhouse,David Locke, 2016. "Earnings premiums and penalties for self-employment and informal employees around the world," Policy Research Working Paper Series 7530, The World Bank.
    2. Peter, Klara Sabirianova & Buttrick, Steve & Duncan, Denvil, 2010. "Global Reform of Personal Income Taxation, 1981–2005: Evidence From 189 Countries," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 63(3), pages 447-478, September.

    More about this item


    shadow economy; tax evasion; personal income tax; corporate income tax; flat tax; structural progressivity; tax complexity; electricity approach; institutions;

    JEL classification:

    • D73 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Bureaucracy; Administrative Processes in Public Organizations; Corruption
    • H1 - Public Economics - - Structure and Scope of Government
    • J3 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs
    • J4 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Particular Labor Markets
    • O1 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development
    • P2 - Economic Systems - - Socialist Systems and Transition Economies

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