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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.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 11661.

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Date of creation: Oct 2005
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Ito, Takatoshi and Andrew K. Rose. Fiscal Policy and Management in East Asia, NBER-East Asia Seminar on Economics series, vol 16. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2007.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11661
Note: PE
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  1. Grossman, Gene & Helpman, Elhanan, 1993. "Protection for Sale," CEPR Discussion Papers 827, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  2. Rafael La Porta & Florencio Lopezde-Silanes & Andrei Shleifer, 2000. "Government Ownership of Banks," NBER Working Papers 7620, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. 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.
  4. Peter A. Diamond & J. A. Mirrlees, 1968. "Optimal Taxation and Public Production," Working papers 22, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  5. Djankov, Simeon & La Porta, Rafael & Shleifer, Andrei & Lopez de Silanes, Florencio, 2001. "The regulation of entry," Policy Research Working Paper Series 2661, The World Bank.
  6. Kenneth L. Judd, 1984. "The Welfare Cost of Factor Taxation in a Perfect Foresight Model," Discussion Papers 643, Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science.
  7. Roger Gordon & Wei Li, 2005. "Tax Structure in Developing Countries: Many Puzzles and a Possible Explanation," NBER Working Papers 11267, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. 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.
  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.
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