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The Informal Sector, Third Version

  • Aureo de Paula


    (Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania)

  • Jose A. Scheinkman


    (Department of Economics, Princeton University)

This paper investigates the determinants of informal economic activity. We present two equilibrium models of informality and test their implications using a survey of 48,000+ small firms in Brazil. We define informality as tax avoidance; firms in the informal sector avoid tax payments but suffer other limitations. In the first model there is a single industry and informal firms face a higher cost of capital and a limitation on size. As a result informal firms are smaller and have a lower capital-labor ratio. When education is an imperfect proxy for ability, we show that the interaction of the manager's education and formality has a positive correlation with firm size. These implications are supported by our empirical analysis. A novel theoretical contribution in this paper is a model that highlights the role of value added taxes in transmitting informality. It predicts that the informality of a firm is correlated to the informality of firms from which it buys or sells. The model also implies that higher tolerance for informal firms in one production stage increases tax avoidance in downstream and upstream sectors. Empirical analysis shows that, in fact, various measures of formality of suppliers and purchasers (and its enforcement) are correlated with the formality of a firm. Even more interestingly, when we look at sectors where Brazilian firms are not subject to the credit system of value added tax, but instead the value added tax is applied at some stage of production at a rate that is estimated by the State, this chain effect vanishes.

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Paper provided by Penn Institute for Economic Research, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania in its series PIER Working Paper Archive with number 08-018.

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Length: 52 pages
Date of creation: 27 Aug 2007
Date of revision: 21 May 2008
Handle: RePEc:pen:papers:08-018
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  1. Maloney, William F. & Nunez, Jairo & Cunningham, Wendy & Fiess, Norbert & Montenegro, Claudio & Murrugarra, Edmundo & Santamaria,Mauricio & Sepulveda, Claudia, 2001. "Measuring the impact of minimum wages : evidence from Latin America," Policy Research Working Paper Series 2597, The World Bank.
  2. Almeida, Rita K. & Carneiro, Pedro, 2005. "Enforcement of Regulation, Informal Labor and Firm Performance," IZA Discussion Papers 1759, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  3. Fajnzylber, Pablo & Maloney, William F. & Montes-Rojas, Gabriel V., 2009. "Does Formality Improve Micro-Firm Performance? Quasi-Experimental Evidence from the Brazilian SIMPLES Program," IZA Discussion Papers 4531, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  4. Stephane Straub, 2005. "Informal Sector: The Credit Market Channel," ESE Discussion Papers 101, Edinburgh School of Economics, University of Edinburgh.
  5. Emran, M. Shahe & Stiglitz, Joseph E., 2005. "On selective indirect tax reform in developing countries," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(4), pages 599-623, April.
  6. Fortin, Bernard & Marceau, Nicolas & Savard, Luc, 1997. "Taxation, wage controls and the informal sector," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 66(2), pages 293-312, November.
  7. Loayza, Norman V., 1996. "The economics of the informal sector: a simple model and some empirical evidence from Latin America," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 45(1), pages 129-162, December.
  8. Dabla-Norris, Era & Gradstein, Mark & Inchauste, Gabriela, 2008. "What causes firms to hide output? The determinants of informality," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 85(1-2), pages 1-27, February.
  9. Simon Johnson & Daniel Kaufman & Andrei Shleifer, 1997. "The Unofficial Economy in Transition," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 28(2), pages 159-240.
  10. Rauch, James E., 1991. "Modelling the informal sector formally," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 35(1), pages 33-47, January.
  11. Rivers, Douglas & Vuong, Quang H., 1988. "Limited information estimators and exogeneity tests for simultaneous probit models," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 39(3), pages 347-366, November.
  12. Almeida, Rita & Carneiro, Pedro, 2005. "Enforcement of labor regulation, informal labor, and firm performance," Policy Research Working Paper Series 3756, The World Bank.
  13. 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.
  14. James Heckman & Carmen Pages, 2003. "Law and Employment: Lessons from Latin America and the Caribbean," NBER Working Papers 10129, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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