Regulation and Income Inequality

We examine the relationship between entry regulations and income inequality. Entry regulations increase the cost of legally starting a business relative to the alternatives—working for someone else, entering illegally, or exiting the labor force. We hypothesize that such regulations may cause greater income inequality, because entrepreneurs at the bottom rungs of the income distribution may have relatively greater difficulty surmounting costly barriers to entry. Combining entry regulations data from the World Bank Doing Business Index with various measures of income inequality, including Gini coefficients and income shares, we examine a pooled cross-section of 175 countries and find that countries with more stringent entry regulations tend to experience higher levels of income inequality. An increase by one standard deviation in the number of procedures required to start a new business is associated with a 1.5 percent increase in the Gini coefficient and a 5.6 percent increase in the share of income going to the top 10 percent of earners. Although we cannot eliminate the possibility of reverse causality, we are unaware of any theory that posits that income inequality causes entry regulations. We therefore offer several simple recommendations designed to minimize regulations’ adverse effect on income inequality.

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