Underground Activity and Institutional Change: Productive, Protective and Predatory Behavior in Transition Economies
Transforming Post-Communist Political Economies Nelson, Tilly and Walker (eds), National Academy Press, Washington, DC 1997
20 Pages Posted: 17 Jun 2019
Date Written: June 1997
This paper examines why some transitions are more successful than others by focusing attention on the role of productive, protective and predatory behaviors from the perspective of the new institutional economics. Many transition economies are characterized by a fundamental inconsistency between formal and informal institutions. When formal and informal rules clash, non compliant behaviors proliferate, among them, tax evasion, corruption, bribery, organized criminality, and theft of government property. These wealth redistributing protective and predatory behaviors activities absorb resources that could otherwise be used for wealth production resulting in huge transition costs.
Non compliant behaviors -- evasion, avoidance, circumvention, abuse, and/or corruption of institutional rules -- comprise what we can be termed underground economies. A variety of underground economies can be differentiated according to the types of rules violated by the non compliant behaviors. The focus of the new institutional economics is on the consequences of institutions -- the rules that structure and constrain economic activity -- for economic outcomes. Underground economics is concerned with instances in which the rules are evaded, circumvented, and violated. It seeks to determine the conditions likely to foster rule violations, and to understand the various consequences of noncompliance with institutional rules. Noncompliance with ‘bad” rules may actually foster development whereas non compliance with “good” rules will hinder development. Since rules differ, both the nature and consequences of rule violations will therefore depend on the particular rules violated. Institutional economics and underground economics are therefore highly complementary. The former examines the rules of the game, the latter the strategic responses of individuals and organizations to those rules. Economic performance depends on both the nature of the rules and the extent of compliance with them.
Institutions therefore do affect economic performance, but it is not always obvious which institutional rules dominate. Where formal and informal institutions are coherent and consistent, the incentives produced by the formal rules will affect economic outcomes. Under these circumstances, the rule of law typically secures property rights, reduces uncertainty, and lowers transaction costs. In regimes of discretionary authority where formal institutions conflict with informal norms, noncompliance with the formal rules becomes pervasive, and underground economic activity is consequential for economic outcomes.
Keywords: transition economies, underground economies, institutions, property rights, transaction costs, tax evasion, corruption, rent seeking
JEL Classification: P2, O17, P14, H2, H3, K4, O5, H26
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation