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Informal Taxation

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  • Benjamin A. Olken
  • Monica Singhal

Abstract

Informal payments are a frequently overlooked source of local public finance in developing countries. We use microdata from ten countries to establish stylized facts on the magnitude, form, and distributional implications of this "informal taxation." Informal taxation is widespread, particularly in rural areas, with substantial in-kind labor payments. The wealthy pay more, but pay less in percentage terms, and informal taxes are more regressive than formal taxes. Failing to include informal taxation underestimates household tax burdens and revenue decentralization in developing countries. We propose a simple model of information and enforcement constraints that parsimoniously explains the patterns in the data.

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  • Benjamin A. Olken & Monica Singhal, 2009. "Informal Taxation," NBER Working Papers 15221, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15221
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    3. Bachas, Pierre & Fattal Jaef, Roberto N. & Jensen, Anders, 2019. "Size-dependent tax enforcement and compliance: Global evidence and aggregate implications," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 140(C), pages 203-222.
    4. Lucie Gadenne, 2020. "Can Rationing Increase Welfare? Theory and an Application to India's Ration Shop System," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 12(4), pages 144-177, November.
    5. Benjamin A. Olken & Monica Singhal, 2011. "Informal Taxation," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 3(4), pages 1-28, October.
    6. Koen P.R. Bartels & Guido Cozzi & Noemi Mantovan, 2011. "Public Spending and Volunteering: "The Big Society", Crowding Out, and Volunteering Capital," Working Papers 2011_09, Durham University Business School.
    7. Levy, Gilat & Bandiera, Oriana, 2010. "Diversity and the Power of the Elites in Democratic Societies: A model and a test," CEPR Discussion Papers 7985, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    8. Archambault, Caroline & Chemin, Matthieu & de Laat, Joost, 2016. "Can peers increase the voluntary contributions in community driven projects? Evidence from a field experiment," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 132(PA), pages 62-77.
    9. Liu, Yu, 2018. "Government extraction and firm size: Local officials’ responses to fiscal distress in China," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 46(4), pages 1310-1331.
    10. Lucie Gadenne, 2017. "Tax Me, but Spend Wisely? Sources of Public Finance and Government Accountability," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 9(1), pages 274-314, January.
    11. Haichao Fan & Yu Liu & Nancy Qian & Jaya Wen, 2018. "Computerizing VAT Invoices in China," NBER Working Papers 24414, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. 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.
    13. Jack, B. Kelsey & Recalde, María P., 2015. "Leadership and the voluntary provision of public goods: Field evidence from Bolivia," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 122(C), pages 80-93.
    14. Gadenne, Lucie, 2018. "Do Ration Shop Systems Increase Welfare? Theory and an Application to India," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 1149, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
    15. Qian, Nancy & Liu, Yu & Wen, Jaya & Fan, Haichao, 2018. "The Dynamic Effects of Computerized VAT Invoices on Chinese Manufacturing Firms," CEPR Discussion Papers 12786, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    16. Ivanyna, Maksym & von Haldenwang, Christian, 2012. "A comparative view on the tax performance of developing countries: Regional patterns, non-tax revenue and governance," Economics - The Open-Access, Open-Assessment E-Journal (2007-2020), Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW Kiel), vol. 6, pages 1-44.
    17. Bandiera, Oriana & Levy, Gilat, 2011. "Diversity and the power of the elites in democratic societies: Evidence from Indonesia," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 95(11), pages 1322-1330.
    18. Wantchekon, Leonard & Riaz, Zara, 2019. "Mobile technology and food access," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 117(C), pages 344-356.
    19. Niehaus, Paul & Sukhtankar, Sandip, 2013. "The marginal rate of corruption in public programs: Evidence from India," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 104(C), pages 52-64.
    20. Martinsson, Peter & Medhin, Haileselassie & Persson, Emil, 2016. "Framing and Minimum Levels in Public Good Provision," Working Papers in Economics 656, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economics.
    21. Di Falco, Salvatore & Feri, Francesco & Pin, Paolo & Vollenweider, Xavier, 2018. "Ties that bind: Network redistributive pressure and economic decisions in village economies," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 131(C), pages 123-131.
    22. Xia, Xing, 2021. "Barrier to Entry or Signal of Quality? The Effects of Occupational Licensing on Minority Dental Assistants," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 71(C).
    23. Casey B. Mulligan, 2015. "In-Kind Taxes, Behavior, and Comparative Advantage," NBER Working Papers 21586, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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    JEL classification:

    • H27 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Other Sources of Revenue
    • H41 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - Public Goods
    • O17 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Formal and Informal Sectors; Shadow Economy; Institutional Arrangements

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