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The informal sector, firm dynamics, and institutional participation

  • Levenson, Alec R.
  • Maloney, William F.

The informal microfirm sector is believed to be large, accounting for 20-40 percent of employment in many developing countries. The literature tends to view the sector as the disadvantaged sector of a segmented labor market, as existing to evade government regulations, or as constrained by lack of access to government services. The authors offer a unique theoretical framework to analyze informality and microfirm growth behavior -- one that emphasizes the entrepreneurial nature of informal firms and sees informality as a secondary characteristic. First, they assume that informal firms in developing countries have dynamics similar to firms in industrial countries: entrepreneurs have unobserved, differing cost structures that determine their long-run size and survival -- structures that they can only discover by going into business. Second, informality can be thought of as a decision to participate in societal institutions. Access to mechanisms that ensure property rights, pool risk, or enforce contracts become more important as a firm grows, and the entrepreneur will be willing to pay for them through"taxes"in a way that was not the case as a small firm. The combination of these assumptions generates several of the stylized facts emerging from cross-sectional data and identified in existing models -- informal firms tend to remain small and have high rates of mortality, and lower productivity -- without recourse to government-induced distortions in labor or product markets. Further, the framework predicts that firms whose cost structures dictate that they should expand will make the transition to formality as they grow. Using detailed observations from Mexico, the authors find their view consistent with patterns of formality and growth of microfirms.

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Paper provided by The World Bank in its series Policy Research Working Paper Series with number 1988.

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Date of creation: 30 Sep 1998
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Handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:1988
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  1. Dunne, T. & Roberts, M.J. & Samuelson, L., 1988. "The Growth And Failure Of U.S. Manufacturing Plants," Papers 1-87-5, Pennsylvania State - Department of Economics.
  2. 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.
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  13. Yifu Lin, Justin & Nugent, Jeffrey B., 1995. "Institutions and economic development," Handbook of Development Economics, in: Hollis Chenery & T.N. Srinivasan (ed.), Handbook of Development Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 38, pages 2301-2370 Elsevier.
  14. Davis, Steven J & Haltiwanger, John & Schuh, Scott, 1996. " Small Business and Job Creation: Dissecting the Myth and Reassessing the Facts," Small Business Economics, Springer, vol. 8(4), pages 297-315, August.
  15. Evans, David S & Leighton, Linda S, 1989. "Some Empirical Aspects of Entrepreneurship," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(3), pages 519-35, June.
  16. Peattie, Lisa, 1987. "An idea in good currency and how it grew: The informal sector," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 15(7), pages 851-860, July.
  17. Gruber, Jonathan, 1994. "The Incidence of Mandated Maternity Benefits," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(3), pages 622-41, June.
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