Dina Pomeranz is an assistant professor in the Entrepreneurial Management Unit, where she teaches the Entrepreneurial Manager course in the MBA required curriculum.
She is a faculty research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), an affiliate professor at the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) and a member of the International Growth Centre (IGC) based at LSE/Oxford. Besides her academic interests, she serves on the board or advisory board of a number of social enterprise ventures committed to translating research into practice.
Professor Pomeranz’s research focuses on public policies towards firms and entrepreneurs in emerging markets. In particular, she has conducted large-scale randomized field experiments about tax evasion by firms and about determinants and impacts of formal savings for low-income microentrepreneurs. Prior to joining HBS, she served as a postdoctoral fellow at MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, with a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University and BA and MA degrees in international relations from the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva. She has written on economic topics in the leading Swiss newspapers Neue Zürcher Zeitung and Tages Anzeiger, and has initiated the network Swiss Economists Abroad as well as the Harvard Development Economics Research Retreats.
Beyond her research, Dina Pomeranz has been active in a variety of organizations, including as a consultant to the Chilean and Ecuadorian Tax Authorities, the World Bank, and the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, and she serves on the board or advisory board of a number of social entreprises, including TAMTAM-Together Against Malaria, Evidence Action, Instiglio, and IDinsight.
We test the effectiveness of self-help peer groups as a commitment device for precautionary savings, through two randomized field experiments among 2,687 microentrepreneurs in Chile. The first experiment finds that self-help peer groups are a powerful tool to increase savings (number of deposits grows 3.5-fold and average savings balance almost doubles). Conversely, a substantially higher interest rate has no effect on most participants. A second experiment tests an alternative delivery mechanism and shows that effects of a similar size can be achieved by holding people accountable through feedback text messages, without any meetings or peer pressure.
No Taxation without Information
Tax evasion generates billions of dollars of losses in government revenue and creates large distortions, especially in developing countries. A growing, mostly theoretical literature argues that information flows are central to understanding effective taxation. This paper analyzes the role of information for tax enforcement in the case of the Value Added Tax (VAT) through two randomized field experiments with over 400,000 Chilean firms. Claims that the VAT facilitates tax enforcement by generating a paper trail on transactions between firms have led to widespread VAT adoption worldwide, but there is surprisingly little evidence. I find that the paper trail acts as a substitute to a firm's own audit risk. A message announcing increased tax enforcement has a much smaller effect on reporting of transactions that are already covered by a paper trail. A second experiment shows that the paper trail leads to spillovers that create important multiplier effects in tax enforcement. The impact of a random audit announcement is transmitted up the VAT chain, increasing compliance by firms' suppliers. These findings confirm that when evasion is taken into account, significant differences emerge between taxes that are equivalent in standard models but generate different information on taxable transactions.
Start-Up Chile: April 2012
Start-Up Chile is a unique program to encourage entrepreneurs to bring their new ventures to Chile. Policymakers must evaluate its effectiveness in achieving economic and social goals.
Do Savings Constraints Lead to Indebtedness? Experimental Evidence from Access to Formal Savings Accounts in Chile
Poverty is often characterized not only by low and unstable income, but also by heavy debt burdens. We find that the inability to save contributes to this indebtedness. Access to free savings accounts substantially decreases participants' propensity to use short-term credit. In addition, participants who experience an economic shock have less need to reduce consumption, and subjective well-being improves significantly. Precautionary savings and credit therefore act as substitutes in providing self-insurance, and participants prefer saving more when given the choice. Take-up patterns suggest that requests by others for participants to share their resources are a key obstacle to saving.
Borrowing and Debt;
No Taxation without Information: Deterrence and Self-Enforcement in the Value Added Tax
Claims that the VAT facilitates tax enforcement by generating paper trails on transactions between firms contributed to widespread VAT adoption worldwide, but there is surprisingly little evidence. This paper analyzes the role of third party information for VAT enforcement through two randomized experiments among over 400,000 Chilean firms. Announcing additional monitoring has less impact on transactions that are subject to a paper trail, indicating the paper trail's preventive deterrence effect. This leads to strong enforcement spillovers up the VAT chain. These findings confirm that when taking evasion into account, significant differences emerge between otherwise equivalent forms of taxation.
Under-Savers Anonymous: Evidence on Self-Help Groups and Peer Pressure as a Savings Commitment Device
We test the effectiveness of self-help peer groups as a commitment device for precautionary savings, through two randomized field experiments among 2,687 micro-entrepreneurs in Chile. The first experiment finds that self-help peer groups are a powerful tool to increase savings (number of deposits grows 3.5-fold and average savings balance almost doubles). Conversely, a substantially higher interest rate has no effect on most participants. A second experiment tests an alternative delivery mechanism and shows that effects of a similar size can be achieved by holding people accountable through feedback text messages, without any meetings or peer pressure.
Growth and Development;
Professor Pomeranz has conducted large-scale, randomized field experiments in Chile and Ecuador to answer questions about tax evasion and savings by small firms and microentrepreneurs.
Tax evasion generates billions of dollars of losses in government revenue and creates large distortions, especially in developing countries. A growing, mostly theoretical literature argues that information flows are central to understanding effective taxation. Professor Pomeranz has analyzed the role of information for tax enforcement in the case of the Value Added Tax (VAT) in Chile. She finds that the paper trail generated by the VAT leads to important spillovers in tax enforcement along the production chain. These findings confirm the claim that the VAT has self-enforcing properties, a claim that has contributed to widespread VAT adoption worldwide. They also point to the important role that firms play as aggregators of information, thereby facilitating tax enforcement.
Savings among microentrepreneurs
Poverty is often characterized not only by low average income, but also by highly variable income and expenditures, and by a lack of access to insurance services that can help smooth consumption. While commitment devices such as defaults and direct deposits from wages have been found to be highly effective in increasing savings, they are not available to the millions of people worldwide who work in the informal sector or as independent entrepreneurs, and who therefore do not have a formal wage bill.
Professor Pomeranz has investigated low-income Chilean microentrepreneurs and found that self-help peer groups can be a highly effective alternative commitment device to encourage savings. Participation in a peer group program increased the number of deposits in formal savings accounts 3.5-fold and almost doubled the average savings balance. A subsequent experiment shows that more than 80 percent of the peer-group effect can be achieved through follow-up by simple text messages. These findings are particularly relevant in light of another study, in which Professor Pomeranz documents that low-income entrepreneurs can effectively use savings accounts for self-insurance and protection against economic shocks.