Informality, Consumption Taxes and Redistribution

By Pierre Bachas, Lucie Gadenne & Anders Jensen

Can consumption taxes reduce inequality in developing countries? This paper combines household expenditure data from 31 countries with theory to shed new light on the redistributive potential and optimal design of consumption taxes. It uses the place of purchase of each expenditure to proxy for informal (untaxed) consumption which enables characterizing the informality Engel curve. The analysis finds that the budget share spent in the informal sector steeply declines with income, in all countries. The informal sector thus makes consumption taxes progressive: households in the richest quintile face an effective tax rate that is twice that of the poorest quintile. The paper extends the standard optimal commodity tax model to allow for informal consumption and calibrates it to the data to study the effects of different tax policies on inequality. Contrary to consensus, the findings show that consumption taxes are redistributive, lowering inequality by as much as personal income taxes. These effects are primarily driven by the shape of the informality Engel curve. Taking informality into account, commonly used redistributive policies, such as reduced tax rates on necessities, have a limited impact on inequality. In particular, subsidizing food cannot be justified on equity or efficiency grounds in several poor countries.

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Does Better Information Curb Customs Fraud?

By Cyril Chalendard, Alice Duhaut, Ana M. Fernandes, Aaditya Mattoo, Gael Raballand & Bob Rijkers

This paper examines how providing better information to customs inspectors and monitoring their actions affects tax revenue and fraud detection in Madagascar. First, an instrumental variables strategy is used to show that transaction-specific, third-party valuation advice on a subset of high-risk import declarations increases fraud findings by 21.7 percentage points and tax collection by 5.2 percentage points. Second, a randomized control trial is conducted in which a subset of high-risk declarations is selected to receive detailed risk comments and another subset is explicitly tagged for ex-post monitoring. For declarations not subject to third-party valuation advice, detailed comments increase reporting of fraud by 3.1 percentage points and improve tax yield by 1 percentage point. However, valuation advice and detailed comments have a significantly smaller impact on revenue when potential tax losses and opportunities for graft are large. Monitoring induces inspectors to scan more shipments but does not result in the detection of more fraud or the collection of additional revenue. Better information thus helps curb customs fraud, but its effectiveness appears compromised by corruption.

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The Distributive Impact of Taxes and Expenditures in Colombia

By Nunez Jairo, Sergio Olivieri, Julieth Parra & Julieth Pico

Colombia has reduced extreme poverty in the past 16 years by almost half, moderate poverty by 22 percentage points, and made more than four million Colombians jump the threshold of multidimensional poverty. However, it remains one of the most unequal countries in the region, after Brazil and Panama. Fiscal policy is one of the instruments that allow governments to speed up the decline in inequality levels and reduce poverty. This study presents an exhaustive and comprehensive analysis of the distributional impacts of taxes and expenditures in Colombia in 2017. It makes a methodological comparison with the Commitment to Equity, which was previously implemented, and includes multiple improvements in the methodology. The results suggest that the combined effect of taxes and social spending in Colombia contributes to poverty reduction between 0.3 and 2.6 percentage points for US$5.5 and US$3.2 per day per person respectively, while inequality is reduced by almost one Gini point. Taxes and direct transfers, as well as indirect transfers, are progressive and pro-poor, while indirect taxes are regressive and contribute to an increase in inequality. Finally, transfers in-kind for education and health services are progressive and contribute to the reduction of inequality.

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