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A helping hand or the long arm of the law ? experimental evidence on what governments can do to formalize firms

  • de Andrade, Gustavo Henrique
  • Bruhn, Miriam
  • McKenzie, David

Many governments have spent much of the past decade trying to extend a helping hand to informal businesses by making it easier and cheaper for them to formalize. Much less effort has been devoted to raising the costs of remaining informal, through increasing enforcement of existing regulations. This paper reports on a field experiment conducted in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, in order to test which government actions work in getting informal firms to register. Firms were randomized to a control group or one of four treatment groups: the first received information about how to formalize; the second received this information and free registration costs along with the use of an accountant for a year; the third group was assigned to receive an enforcement visit from a municipal inspector; while the fourth group was assigned to have a neighboring firm receive an enforcement visit to see if enforcement has spillovers. The analysis finds zero or negative impacts of information and free cost treatments, and a significant but small increase in formalization from inspections. Estimates of the impact of actually receiving an inspection give a 21 to 27 percentage point increase in the likelihood of formalizing. The results show most informal firms will not formalize unless forced to do so, suggesting formality offers little private benefit to them. But the tax revenue benefits to the government of bringing firms of this size into the formal system more than offset the costs of inspections.

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Paper provided by The World Bank in its series Policy Research Working Paper Series with number 6435.

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Date of creation: 01 May 2013
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Handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:6435
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  1. Marianne Bertrand & Francis Kramarz, 2001. "Does Entry Regulation Hinder Job Creation? Evidence from the French Retail Industry," NBER Working Papers 8211, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Alm, James & McClelland, Gary H. & Schulze, William D., 1992. "Why do people pay taxes?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 48(1), pages 21-38, June.
  3. Suresh De Mel & David McKenzie & Christopher Woodruff, 2012. "The demand for, and consequences of, formalization among informal firms in Sri Lanka," NBER Working Papers 18019, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. McKenzie, David & Sakho, Yaye Seynabou, 2007. "Does it pay firms to register for taxes ? the impact of formality on firm profitability," Policy Research Working Paper Series 4449, The World Bank.
  5. Miriam Bruhn, 2011. "License to Sell: The Effect of Business Registration Reform on Entrepreneurial Activity in Mexico," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 93(1), pages 382-386, February.
  6. Kaplan, David S. & Piedra, Eduardo & Seira, Enrique, 2011. "Entry regulation and business start-ups: Evidence from Mexico," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 95(11), pages 1501-1515.
  7. Klapper, Leora & Laeven, Luc & Rajan, Raghuram, 2006. "Entry regulation as a barrier to entrepreneurship," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 82(3), pages 591-629, December.
  8. Lucas Ronconi, 2010. "Enforcement and Compliance with Labor Regulations," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 63(4), pages 719-736, July.
  9. Rafael La Porta & Andrei Shleifer, 2008. "The Unofficial Economy and Economic Development," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 39(2 (Fall)), pages 275-363.
  10. David Kaplan & Eduardo Piedra & Enrique Seira, 2007. "Are Burdensome Registration Procedures an Important Barrier on Firm Creation? Evidence from Mexico," Working Papers 0701, Centro de Investigacion Economica, ITAM.
  11. Fajnzylber, Pablo & Maloney, William F. & Montes-Rojas, Gabriel V., 2011. "Does formality improve micro-firm performance? Evidence from the Brazilian SIMPLES program," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 94(2), pages 262-276, March.
  12. John Gibson & David McKenzie, 2007. "Using the Global Positioning System (GPS) in Household Surveys For Better Economics and Better Policy," Working Papers in Economics 07/04, University of Waikato, Department of Economics.
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