The impact of taxes and social spending on inequality and poverty in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay

Working Paper 2013-315


How much redistribution and poverty reduction is being accomplished in Latin America through social spending, subsidies, and taxes? Standard fiscal incidence analyses applied to Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Mexico, Peru, and Uruguay using a comparable methodology yields the following results. Direct taxes and cash transfers reduce inequality and poverty by nontrivial amounts in Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay but less so in Bolivia, Mexico, and Peru. While direct taxes are progressive, the redistributive impact is small because direct taxes as a share of GDP are generally low. Cash transfers are quite progressive in absolute terms, except in Bolivia where programs are not targeted to the poor. In Bolivia and Brazil, indirect taxes more than offset the poverty-reducing impact of cash transfers. When one includes the in-kind transfers in education and health, valued at government costs, they reduce inequality in all countries by considerably more than cash transfers, reflecting their relative size.

Authors: Nora Lustig, Florencia Amábile, Marisa Bucheli, George Gray Molina , Sean Higgins , Miguel Jaramillo , Wilson Jiménez Pozo , Veronica Paz Arauco , Claudiney Pereira, Carola Pessino , Máximo Rossi , John Scott , Ernesto Yáñez Aguilar .

Keywords: fiscal incidence, inequality, poverty, taxes, social spending, Latin America.
JEL: H22, I3, O1.