Estimating the Size and Growth of Unrecorded Economic Activity in Transition Countries: A Re-evaluation of Electric Consumption Method Estimates and their Implications
It is widely acknowledged that underground (unrecorded) economic activities play a major role in transition economies. Evaluations of the success and failure of the transition experience should therefore be based on total economic activity [TEA], namely, the sum of recorded and unrecorded economic activity. Substantive conclusions concerning the effects of unrecorded activities on the transition process as well as investigations of the causes and consequences of unrecorded activities have to date, relied extensively on estimates of unrecorded income based on variants of the electric consumption method [ECM] during the first half of the transition process. We first attempt to replicate these estimates employing improved data series. We then go on to extend and update alternative versions of the ECM estimates of unrecorded income for twenty five transition countries for the period 1989-2001. These new estimates enable us to examine the sensitivity of the results to alternative specifying assumptions, particularly, initial conditions. We find that our updated ECM estimates of the size of the unrecorded sector are not only highly sensitive to initial conditions, but they produce negative estimates of unrecorded income for many transition countries. Our findings are also compared to the new national accounting procedures that attempt to estimate exhaustive measures of the “non-observed economy”. Our disturbing results call into question many of the substantive conclusions reached by other scholars who relied on earlier ECM estimates to draw inferences about the transition process as well as the causes and consequences of underground economies in transition. In short, while we conclude that ECM estimates of the size of the unrecorded economy are unreliable, it is still possible to use the growth rate of the unrecorded sector to make important inferences about the transition process by examining the dynamic relationship between recorded and unrecorded sectors. The extension of our data base to cover the entire transition period will hopefully result in new investigations employing panel data rather than the more traditional method of applying simple cross country test procedures.
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