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Leaving No One Behind: Can Tax-Funded Transfer Programs Provide Income Floors in Sub-Saharan Africa?


  • Nora Lustig

    (Stone Center for Latin American Studies, Department of Economics, Tulane University, Commitment to Equity Institute (CEQ))

  • Jon Jellema
  • Valentina Martinez Pabon


We use results from nine different country-based Commitment to Equity (CEQ) Assessments in sub-Saharan Africa to demonstrate the welfare impact in low- and middle-income countries of policy scenarios which (a) redirect current subsidy expenditures to direct cash transfer programs; (b) establish income floors to be funded from both current subsidy expenditure as well as from additional revenues generated through current direct and indirect tax instruments; and (c) target direct cash transfer spending to poor populations or to general populations (a "universal" transfer). Results indicate that at baseline the existing combination of taxes and transfers increases post-fiscal poverty in all countries but upper middle-income Namibia and South Africa. This result - which we call fiscal impoverishment - is most often due to the fact that the poor pay consumption taxes but receive very little in cash transfers and an exceedingly small share of total subsidies. Reallocating expenditures on general price subsidies to targeted transfers would yield better poverty outcomes in most countries, but a portion of the not-so-poor poor would then receive no transfers at all. Results also show that setting income floors equivalent to international poverty lines and funding the necessary transfers with direct taxes from individuals is often not feasible for two reasons: there is extreme reranking of individuals (from preto post-fiscal income) and negative post-fiscal incomes for tax-paying individuals and the tax burden on the nonpoor would be significantly higher. Scenarios establishing income floors are more likely to be feasible when the required additional funding is financed by a proportional increase in indirect taxes

Suggested Citation

  • Nora Lustig & Jon Jellema & Valentina Martinez Pabon, 2019. "Leaving No One Behind: Can Tax-Funded Transfer Programs Provide Income Floors in Sub-Saharan Africa?," Commitment to Equity (CEQ) Working Paper Series 85, Tulane University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:tul:ceqwps:85

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Brown, Caitlin & Ravallion, Martin & van de Walle, Dominique, 2018. "A poor means test? Econometric targeting in Africa," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 134(C), pages 109-124.
    2. Robert Gillingham & David Locke Newhouse & David Coady & Kangni R Kpodar & Moataz El-Said & Paulo A Medas, 2006. "The Magnitude and Distribution of Fuel Subsidies; Evidence from Bolivia, Ghana, Jordan, Mali, and Sri Lanka," IMF Working Papers 06/247, International Monetary Fund.
    3. Moore, Mick & Prichard, Wilson & Fjeldstad, Odd-Helge, 2018. "Taxing Africa: Coercion, Reform and Development," Working Papers 13997, Institute of Development Studies, International Centre for Tax and Development.
    4. Dean Jolliffe & Espen Beer Prydz, 2016. "Estimating international poverty lines from comparable national thresholds," The Journal of Economic Inequality, Springer;Society for the Study of Economic Inequality, vol. 14(2), pages 185-198, June.
    5. De La Fuente,Alejandro & Rosales,Manuel & Jellema,Jon Robbert, 2017. "The impact of fiscal policy on inequality and poverty in Zambia," Policy Research Working Paper Series 8246, The World Bank.
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    More about this item


    fiscal impoverishment; fiscal policy; fiscal incidence; social spending; inequality; poverty; taxes;

    JEL classification:

    • H22 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Incidence
    • I38 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Government Programs; Provision and Effects of Welfare Programs
    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution

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