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Puzzling Tax Structures in Developing Countries: A Comparison of Two Alternative Explanations


  • Roger Gordon
  • Wei Li


Observed economic policies in developing countries differ sharply both from those observed among developed countries and from those forecast by existing models of optimal policies. For example, developing countries rely little on broad-based taxes, and make substantial use of tariffs and seignorage as nontax sources of revenue. The objective of this paper is to contrast the implications of two models designed to explain such anomalous policies. One approach, by Gordon-Li (2005), focuses on the greater difficulties faced in poor countries in monitoring taxable activity, and explores the best available policies given such difficulties. The other, building on Grossman-Helpman (1994), presumes that political-economy problems in developing countries are worse, leading to worse policy choices. The paper compares the contrasting theoretical implications of the two models with the data, and finds that the political-economy approach does poorly in reconciling many aspects of the data with the theory. In contrast, the forecasts from Gordon-Li model are largely consistent with the data currently available.

Suggested Citation

  • Roger Gordon & Wei Li, 2005. "Puzzling Tax Structures in Developing Countries: A Comparison of Two Alternative Explanations," NBER Working Papers 11661, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11661
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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Simeon Djankov & Rafael La Porta & Florencio Lopez-de-Silanes & Andrei Shleifer, 2002. "The Regulation of Entry," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 117(1), pages 1-37.
    2. Judd, Kenneth L, 1987. "The Welfare Cost of Factor Taxation in a Perfect-Foresight Model," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 95(4), pages 675-709, August.
    3. Rafael La Porta & Florencio Lopez-De-Silanes & Andrei Shleifer, 2002. "Government Ownership of Banks," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 57(1), pages 265-301, February.
    4. Grossman, Gene M & Helpman, Elhanan, 1994. "Protection for Sale," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(4), pages 833-850, September.
    5. repec:hrv:faseco:30747188 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Gordon, Roger & Li, Wei, 2009. "Tax structures in developing countries: Many puzzles and a possible explanation," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 93(7-8), pages 855-866, August.
    7. Saez, Emmanuel, 2002. "The desirability of commodity taxation under non-linear income taxation and heterogeneous tastes," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 83(2), pages 217-230, February.
    8. Peter A. Diamond & J. A. Mirrlees, 1968. "Optimal Taxation and Public Production," Working papers 22, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
    9. Beck, Thorsten & Demirguc-Kunt, Asli & Levine, Ross, 1999. "A new database on financial development and structure," Policy Research Working Paper Series 2146, The World Bank.
    10. 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.
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    Cited by:

    1. Joshua Aizenman & Yothin Jinjarak, 2009. "Globalisation and Developing Countries - a Shrinking Tax Base?," Journal of Development Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 45(5), pages 653-671.
    2. Knud Munk, 2008. "Tax-tariff reform with costs of tax administration," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer;International Institute of Public Finance, vol. 15(6), pages 647-667, December.
    3. Richard Arnott, 2008. "Housing policy in developing countries. The importance of the informal economy," Working Papers 200801, University of California at Riverside, Department of Economics, revised Jan 2008.
    4. Michael M. Alba, 2007. "Comment on "Puzzling Tax Structures in Devloping Countries: A Comparison of Two Alternative Explanations"," NBER Chapters,in: Fiscal Policy and Management in East Asia, NBER-EASE, Volume 16, pages 37-41 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Daianu, Daniel & Kallai, Ella & Lungu, Laurian, 2012. "Tax Policy under the Curse of Low Revenues: The Case of Romania (Part II)," Journal for Economic Forecasting, Institute for Economic Forecasting, vol. 0(2), pages 143-162, June.
    6. Hungerman, Daniel M., 2014. "Public goods, hidden income, and tax evasion: Some nonstandard results from the warm-glow model," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 109(C), pages 188-202.
    7. Denvil Duncan & Klara Sabirianova Peter, 2016. "Unequal inequalities: Do progressive taxes reduce income inequality?," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer;International Institute of Public Finance, vol. 23(4), pages 762-783, August.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H21 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Efficiency; Optimal Taxation
    • O23 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Development Planning and Policy - - - Fiscal and Monetary Policy in Development
    • O17 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Formal and Informal Sectors; Shadow Economy; Institutional Arrangements
    • F13 - International Economics - - Trade - - - Trade Policy; International Trade Organizations
    • F23 - International Economics - - International Factor Movements and International Business - - - Multinational Firms; International Business

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