COMMON to all men, according to Adam Smith, is “the propensity to truck, barter and exchange”. Less common is a willingness to report all of this enterprise to the authorities (which have a propensity to register, regulate and tax). South Africa’s spaza shops (convenience stores often run from people’s homes), Kenya’s jua kali (a Swahili term referring to the “hot sun” under which craftsmen traditionally made and sold their wares) or Senegal’s tight-knit networks of Mouride street peddlers—all contribute to the informal economy. This shadow economy, which includes unregistered enterprises and off-the-books activity by registered firms, is difficult to measure, almost by definition. But this week the IMF released new estimates of its size.
The fund’s economists inferred the size of the informal economy indirectly, based on more visible indicators that either cause informality (heavy taxes, high unemployment and patchy rule of…Continue reading