Underground economy and GDP growth: Evidence from China’s tax reforms

Yu Kun Wang, Li Zhang


Since 1991, China has implemented two significant tax reforms. The first reform, in 1994, was a large-scale adjustment of the tax distribution system between the central and local governments, and the second reform, in 2012, replaced business tax with value-added tax. Also, the size of China’s underground economy decreased from 13.55% in 1995 to 12.30% in 2016. The paper presents an evaluation of the effect of the two tax reforms and the existing underground economy on GDP growth in China. GDP is defined as explained variable, the explanatory variables include: the ratio of declared income to actual income, the change of concealed income, and the influence of tax rate change on declared income and concealed income. According to the tax reform in 1994 and 2012, two dummy variables are set respectively. In methodology, this paper uses Simultaneous equations model, SUR-OLSs and Slutsky identity. Our estimation is based on the official statistics of China National Bureau of Statistics in the period from 1991 to 2019. In empirical analysis, we decomposed tax changes into tax rate effect (change of budget constraint slope) and income effect (change of tax liability), then analyzed the impact of tax elasticity on GDP growth. The empirical results demonstrate that both the 1994 tax reform and 2012 tax reform have had a positive impact on GDP, with high statistical significance respectively. The results also confirm that the increase of tax rate leads to the increase of hidden income, which eventually leads to the decrease of GDP. The offered methodology can also be applied to most countries for time series analyses.

For citation

Wang Y.K., Zhang L. Underground economy and GDP growth: Evidence from China’s tax reforms. Journal of Tax Reform. 2021;7(1):87–107. DOI: 10.15826/jtr.2021.7.1.092


Article info

Received December 15, 2020; Revised February 26, 2021; Accepted March 15, 2021


underground economy; tax evasion; cash deposit ratio; elasticity of taxable income; currency demand; currency transaction


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