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The Unofficial Economy in Africa

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  • Rafael La Porta
  • Andrei Shleifer

Abstract

We examine the productivity of informal firms (those that are not registered with the government) in 24 African countries using field work and World Bank firm level data. We find that productivity jumps sharply if we compare small formal firms to informal firms, and rises rapidly with the size of formal firms. Critically, informal firms appear to be qualitatively different than formal firms: they are smaller in size, produce to order, are run by managers with low human capital, do not have access to external finance, do not advertise their products, and sell to largely informal clients for cash. Informal firms thus occupy a very different market niche than formal firms do, and rarely become formal because there is very little demand for their products from the formal sector.

Suggested Citation

  • Rafael La Porta & Andrei Shleifer, 2011. "The Unofficial Economy in Africa," NBER Working Papers 16821, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:16821
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. de Mel, Suresh & McKenzie, David & Woodruff, Christopher, 2007. "Measuring microenterprise profits : don't ask how the sausage is made," Policy Research Working Paper Series 4229, The World Bank.
    2. Abhijit V. Banerjee & Esther Duflo, 2008. "What Is Middle Class about the Middle Classes around the World?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 22(2), pages 3-28, Spring.
    3. Chang-Tai Hsieh & Peter J. Klenow, 2009. "Misallocation and Manufacturing TFP in China and India," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 124(4), pages 1403-1448.
    4. Lucia Foster & John Haltiwanger & Chad Syverson, 2008. "Reallocation, Firm Turnover, and Efficiency: Selection on Productivity or Profitability?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(1), pages 394-425, March.
    5. Rauch, James E., 1991. "Modelling the informal sector formally," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 35(1), pages 33-47, January.
    6. Harris, John R & Todaro, Michael P, 1970. "Migration, Unemployment & Development: A Two-Sector Analysis," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 60(1), pages 126-142, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Böhme, Marcus & Thiele, Rainer, 2012. "Is the Informal Sector Constrained from the Demand Side? Evidence for Six West African Capitals," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 40(7), pages 1369-1381.
    2. Marcus H Böhme & Rainer Thiele, 2014. "Informal–Formal Linkages and Informal Enterprise Performance in Urban West Africa," The European Journal of Development Research, Palgrave Macmillan;European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes (EADI), vol. 26(4), pages 473-489, September.
    3. Xinshen Diao & Josaphat Kweka & Margaret McMillan, 2016. "Economic Transformation in Africa from the Bottom Up: Evidence from Tanzania," NBER Working Papers 22889, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Bruhn, Miriam, 2013. "A tale of two species: Revisiting the effect of registration reform on informal business owners in Mexico," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 103(C), pages 275-283.
    5. Ahmadou Aly Mbaye & Nancy Benjamin & Stephen Golub & Jean-Jacques Ekomie, 2014. "The Urban Informal Sector in Francophone Africa: Large Versus Small Enterprises in Benin, Burkina Faso and Senegal," Working Papers 201405, University of Cape Town, Development Policy Research Unit.
    6. Rawaa Harati, 2014. "Firms Informality: A Model and Empirical Evidence for Lebanon," Working Papers 883, Economic Research Forum, revised Dec 2014.
    7. repec:pal:eurjdr:v:29:y:2017:i:2:d:10.1057_s41287-016-0010-2 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Janet Ceglowski & Stephen Golub & Aly Mbaye & Varun Prasad, 2015. "Can Africa Compete with China in Manufacturing? The Role of Relative Unit Labor Costs," Working Papers 201504, University of Cape Town, Development Policy Research Unit.
    9. Hampel-Milagrosa, Aimée & Loewe, Markus & Reeg, Caroline, 2015. "The Entrepreneur Makes a Difference: Evidence on MSE Upgrading Factors from Egypt, India, and the Philippines," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 66(C), pages 118-130.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • O0 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - General
    • O12 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Microeconomic Analyses of Economic Development
    • O17 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Formal and Informal Sectors; Shadow Economy; Institutional Arrangements
    • O43 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - Institutions and Growth

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