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firm behavior

How do entrepreneurs in the poorest countries navigate taxes? Guest post by Gabriel Tourek

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This is the ninth in this year's series of posts by PhD students on the job market.

In low-income countries, small firms account for the majority of taxpayers (World Bank 2011). Yet we know little about how they navigate taxation.  Existing research in the developing world focuses mostly on middle-income countries (Pomeranz 2015; Best et al. 2015; Brockmeyer and Hernandez 2018), and there is good reason to think that the tax behavior of firms in the world’s poorest countries might look different.  On the one hand, higher credit constraints may undermine entrepreneurs’ ability to meet their tax obligations. On the other, limited resources for tax oversight might create gaps in enforcement that allow firms to evade taxes more easily.
The question of how such firms respond to taxes is a consequential one.  It matters both for governments’ ability to raise revenues, in places where funds are much-needed, and for the take-home earnings of large populations of poor entrepreneurs.
My job market paper explores how small firms in Rwanda respond to a change in tax incentives. Rwanda provides a useful setting to study small firms’ tax behavior because such firms comprise 99% of all taxpayers.  Rwanda is also a representative low-income country, ranking as 18th poorest in the world (IMF 2018). I focus on entrepreneurs that are earning less than USD $4,000 per year.