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A Helping Hand or the Long Arm of the Law? Experimental Evidence on What Governments Can Do to Formalize Firms

Author

Listed:
  • de Andrade, Gustavo Henrique

    (Governo do Estado de Minas Gerais)

  • Bruhn, Miriam

    () (World Bank)

  • McKenzie, David

    () (World Bank)

Abstract

Many governments have spent much of the past decade trying to extend a helping hand to informal businesses by making it easier and cheaper for them to formalize. Much less effort has been devoted to raising the costs of remaining informal, through increasing enforcement of existing regulations. We conducted a field experiment in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, in order to test which government actions work in getting informal firms to register. Firms were randomized to a control group or one of four treatment groups: the first received information about how to formalize; the second received this information and free registration costs along with the use of an accountant for a year; the third group was assigned to receive an enforcement visit from a municipal inspector; while the fourth group was assigned to have a neighboring firm receive an enforcement visit to see if enforcement has spillovers. We find zero or negative impacts of information and free cost treatments, and a significant but small increase in formalization from inspections. Our LATE estimates of the impact of actually receiving an inspection are much bigger, giving a 21 to 27 percentage point increase in the likelihood of formalizing. The results show most informal firms won't formalize unless forced to do so, suggesting formality offers little private benefit to them, but the tax revenue benefits to the governments of bringing firms of this size into the formal system more than offset the costs of inspections.

Suggested Citation

  • de Andrade, Gustavo Henrique & Bruhn, Miriam & McKenzie, David, 2013. "A Helping Hand or the Long Arm of the Law? Experimental Evidence on What Governments Can Do to Formalize Firms," IZA Discussion Papers 7402, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp7402
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Lucas Ronconi, 2010. "Enforcement and Compliance with Labor Regulations in Argentina," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 63(4), pages 719-736, July.
    2. Fajnzylber, Pablo & Maloney, William F. & Montes-Rojas, Gabriel V., 2011. "Does formality improve micro-firm performance? Evidence from the Brazilian SIMPLES program," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 94(2), pages 262-276, March.
    3. Miriam Bruhn, 2011. "License to Sell: The Effect of Business Registration Reform on Entrepreneurial Activity in Mexico," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 93(1), pages 382-386, February.
    4. 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).
    5. David Kaplan & Eduardo Piedra & Enrique Seira, 2006. "Are Burdensome Registration Procedures an Important Barrier on Firm Creation? Evidence from Mexico," Discussion Papers 06-013, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.
    6. Rafael La Porta & Andrei Shleifer, 2008. "The Unofficial Economy and Economic Development," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 39(2 (Fall)), pages 275-363.
    7. Marianne Bertrand & Francis Kramarz, 2002. "Does Entry Regulation Hinder Job Creation? Evidence from the French Retail Industry," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 117(4), pages 1369-1413.
    8. 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.
    9. repec:hrv:faseco:33078210 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Alm, James & McClelland, Gary H. & Schulze, William D., 1992. "Why do people pay taxes?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 48(1), pages 21-38, June.
    11. McKenzie, David & Seynabou Sakho, Yaye, 2010. "Does it pay firms to register for taxes? The impact of formality on firm profitability," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 91(1), pages 15-24, January.
    12. Kaplan, David S. & Piedra, Eduardo & Seira, Enrique, 2011. "Entry regulation and business start-ups: Evidence from Mexico," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 95(11), pages 1501-1515.
    13. John Gibson & David McKenzie, 2007. "Using the Global Positioning System (GPS) in Household Surveys For Better Economics and Better Policy," Working Papers in Economics 07/04, University of Waikato.
    14. Klapper, Leora & Laeven, Luc & Rajan, Raghuram, 2006. "Entry regulation as a barrier to entrepreneurship," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 82(3), pages 591-629, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. Boly Amadou, 2015. "On the Effects of Formalization on Taxes and Wages: Panel Evidence from Vietnam," WIDER Working Paper Series 042, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    2. Melanie Khamis, 2014. "Formalization of jobs and firms in emerging market economies through registration reform," IZA World of Labor, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA), pages 1-67, May.
    3. Grimm, Michael & Paffhausen, Anna Luisa, 2015. "Do interventions targeted at micro-entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized firms create jobs? A systematic review of the evidence for low and middle income countries," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 32(C), pages 67-85.
    4. repec:eee:labeco:v:45:y:2017:i:c:p:143-157 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Gabriel Ulyssea, 2014. "Firms, Informality and Development: Theory and evidence from Brazil," Textos para discussão 632, Department of Economics PUC-Rio (Brazil).
    6. Campos, Francisco & Goldstein, Markus & McKenzie, David, 2015. "Short-term impacts of formalization assistance and a bank information session on business registration and access to finance in Malawi," Policy Research Working Paper Series 7183, The World Bank.
    7. Beegle,Kathleen G. & Benjamin,Nancy Claire & Recanatini,Francesca & Santini,Massimiliano, 2014. "Informal economy and the World Bank," Policy Research Working Paper Series 6888, The World Bank.
    8. Amadou Boly, 2015. "On the benefits of formalization: Panel evidence from Vietnam," WIDER Working Paper Series 038, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    9. Benhassine,Najy & Mckenzie,David J. & Pouliquen,Victor Maurice Joseph & Santini,Massimiliano, 2015. "Finding a path to formalization in Benin : early results after the introduction of the entreprenant legal status," Policy Research Working Paper Series 7510, The World Bank.
    10. Galiani, Sebastian & Meléndez, Marcela & Ahumada, Camila Navajas, 2017. "On the effect of the costs of operating formally: New experimental evidence," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 45(C), pages 143-157.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    enforcement; small enterprises; informality;

    JEL classification:

    • O17 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Formal and Informal Sectors; Shadow Economy; Institutional Arrangements
    • O12 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Microeconomic Analyses of Economic Development
    • C93 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Field Experiments
    • D21 - Microeconomics - - Production and Organizations - - - Firm Behavior: Theory
    • L26 - Industrial Organization - - Firm Objectives, Organization, and Behavior - - - Entrepreneurship

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