Policy pathways for addressing informality

By Juan R. de Laiglesia, Senior Economist, OECD Development Centre

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Vendor selling fresh vegetables in Galle, Sri Lanka

The prevailing international discourse on informality has shifted. The conceptual “discovery” of the informal sector by the ILO’s Kenya mission in 1972 noted not only its scale but also that it was “…economically efficient and profit-making…” Today, the view that informality is a drag on productivity growth and progress has gained ground in the international community and is consistent with the recommendation that the informal economy should be formalised.

One contention is that balanced development and policy action that lifts the financial, technological, institutional and human capital constraints to productivity will also enable higher productivity in informal firms and thereby formalisation. A growth-inducing productivity agenda is a necessity, but growth alone is not enough to reduce informality.
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La promesse du « made in Africa » ne sera tenue qu’en misant sur les entrepreneurs locaux

Par Victor Harison, commissaire aux affaires économiques de la Commission de l’UA. et Mario Pezzini est directeur du Centre de développement de l’OCDE et conseiller spécial auprès du secrétaire général de l’OCDE chargé du développement.


The topic discussed here builds on the success of the 2017 Africa Forum


Les politiques et stratégies industrielles joueront certes un rôle essentiel, mais elles doivent être repensées profondément. D’abord parce que les efforts d’industrialisation après les indépendances n’ont remporté qu’un succès limité, mais aussi parce que les technologies de production ont subi une révolution, qui n’est pas seulement numérique. L’économie mondiale a radicalement changé, et l’Afrique aussi.
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Services, informality and productivity in Africa

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By Tabea Lakemann, Research Fellow, GIGA Institute of African Affairs and University of Göttingen, and Jann Lay, Acting Director, GIGA Institute of African Affairs, and Head of GIGA Research Programme Growth and Development


Learn more about this timely topic at the upcoming
17th International Economic Forum on Africa


Services, informality and productivity in AfricaEconomic development and a sustained, broad-based increase in living standards on the African1 continent are critically connected to the capacity of African economies to create decent jobs at a rate that keeps up with the rapid growth of the workforce. This, in turn, depends on the ability of African governments to develop innovative, tailor-made strategies towards private sector development taking full advantage of countries’ comparative advantages. Private sector development strategies require governments to recognise the significance of informality and to look beyond industrialisation — to the service sector — for private sector growth and job creation.

The potential of informal firms

On average, the informal economy is estimated to make up almost 40% of GPD in Africa.2 Informal firms are typically much smaller than formal ones, but even when controlling for size, they are on average less productive, less likely to access external finance and have less educated managers.3 At the same time, heterogeneity between informal firms is considerable. Some firms exhibit very high marginal returns to capital, and between 28% and 58% of informal entrepreneurs in West Africa are identified as “constrained gazelles” with low capital stocks, but some unrealised growth potential.4 Many informal firms thus have the likely potential to provide an improved livelihood to their self-employed owners and family members engaged in the business.
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Excessive informal sector: a drag on productivity



By Aleksander Surdej, Poland’s Ambassador to the OECD

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Photos by Victor Jiang / Shutterstock

The informal economy remains a problem when we discuss the prospects of economic development. It is perceived as a hindrance to economic progress because the informal sector does not pay taxes, does not include its employees in social insurance schemes and does little to offer labour law protections. Increasingly, various researchers (La Porta1, Shleifer2, 2014) and international organisations, like the OECD, converge in seeing the informal economy as an obstacle to economic development due to its imminent low productivity. Indeed, informal businesses are concentrated in low productivity sectors. They are, on average, smaller and hence less productive. They generate lower value added. They pay lower wages to their employees and do not train them. And the owners of informal businesses manage their firms less efficiently than their better educated formal sector counterparts.

The informal sector is hence both a symptom of economic backwardness and a drag on economic development. But, can this apparent vicious circle be broken, or is it an economic policy donquichottean task?

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Infrastructure, jobs, good governance: Bringing Africans’ priorities to the G20 table

By Michael Bratton, University Distinguished Professor of Political Science and African Studies at Michigan State University and senior adviser to Afrobarometer, and E. Gyimah-Boadi, Executive Director of Afrobarometer and the Ghana Center for Democratic Development

 

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Beyond the limelight and the headlines, the recent Group of 20 (G20) summit accomplished an important piece of business by launching the Compact with Africa. The next step is crucial: negotiating the priorities that the compact will address.

One key concept is that the compact is with – rather than for – Africa, implying that it will rely on true partnerships to pursue mutually agreed-upon goals.

With its contribution to a “20 Solutions” document presented to the G20 by a consortium of think tanks, the pan-African research network Afrobarometer is working to ensure that the compact will take into account what ordinary Africans say they want and need.

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The Informal Economy in African Cities: Key to Inclusive and Sustainable Urban Development

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By Martha Alter Chen, Harvard University and WIEGO Network


Learn more about this timely topic at the upcoming
Global Forum on Development on 5 April 2017


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Market porters in Accra, Ghana
Photo Credit: Jonathan Torgovnik/Getty Images Reportage

The informal economy consists of economic activities and units that are not registered with the state and workers who do not receive social protection through their work, both wage-employed and self-employed. The reality of the informal economy in Africa cannot be denied. In fact, informal employment accounts for two-thirds (66%) of non-agricultural employment in Sub-Saharan Africa. But, variation within the region is significant. Informal employment accounts for a smaller share of non-agricultural employment in southern Africa (33% in South Africa and 44% in Namibia) relative to countries in other sub-regions (82% in Mali and 76% in Tanzania) (Vanek et al 2014). Informal employment is a greater source of non-agricultural employment for women (74%) than for men (61%) in the region overall. In seven cities in West Africa with data, informal employment comprises between 76% (Niamey) and 83% (Lomé) of employment. In all seven cities, proportionally more women than men are in informal employment (Herrera et al 2012).
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Informal is normal in Latin America: taxes matter

By Juan Carlos Benítez, Economist at the Latin American and Caribbean Unit, and Angel Melguizo, Head of the Latin American and Caribbean Unit, at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)

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Informality equals vulnerability. In emerging economies and particularly in Latin America, informal is normal. On average, 55% of workers in the region did not contribute to pension or healthcare programmes in 2013. Although informality rates vary significantly across countries (Figure 1), a common feature of informality is its large prevalence amongst the poor and low-middle income workers (e.g. Jutting and De Laiglesia, 2009). On average, 85% and 73% of households in the lowest earning quintiles do not have any member contributing to social security schemes. Furthermore, informality is “one of the most striking differences, within the middle sectors, between the vulnerable population and the consolidated middle class” (Lustig and Melguizo, 2015).

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