• Business registration and informality

    A_ICF_BF business registry in action

    See this interesting post by Miriam Bruhn on the World Bank finance blog. Her new paper brings a more detailed view on the heterogeneity of informal business owners, which has important implications for policies aimed at formalization. In a nutshell, the outcome might actually be better than initially thought, partly thanks to “a more efficient allocation of individuals into occupations”.

    A tale of two species : revisiting the effect of registration reform on informal business owners in Mexico
    Different views have been put forward to explain why most firms in developing countries operate informally. One view argues that informal-business owners are entrepreneurs who do not register their firm because the regulation process is too complex. Another argues that informal-business owners are people trying to make a living while searching for a wage job. This paper contributes to recent literature that argues that both factors are at work. The author uses discriminant analysis to separate informal business owners into two groups: those with personal characteristics similar to wage workers, and those with traits similar to formal-business owners. The paper then examines how the two groups were affected by a business registration reform in Mexico. Informal-business owners from the second group were more likely to register their business after the reform. By contrast, informal-business owners from the first group were less likely to register but more likely to become wage workers after the reform. This is consistent with the finding in Bruhn (2008 and 2011) that the reform led to job creation. It also explains why the earlier papers find that the reform didn’t affect the number of new registrations by all informal business owners.

    This can be related back to the other study on the Mexican program, by David Kaplan,
    Eduardo Piedra, and Enrique Seira, which just came out in the Journal of Public Economics.

    We estimate the effect on business start-ups of a program that significantly speeds up firm registration procedures. The program was implemented in Mexico in different municipalities at different dates. Our estimates suggest that new start-ups increased by about 5% per month in eligible industries, and we present evidence supporting robustness and a causal effect interpretation. Most of the effect is temporary, concentrated in the first 15 months after implementation. The estimated effect is much smaller than World Bank and Mexican authorities claim it is, which suggests attention in business deregulation may be over emphasized.

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