Northwestern University

Wed 12:00 PM

Exogenous or Endogenous Colonial Institutions? Lessons from a comparison of tax systems in British a

When: Wednesday, January 16, 2013
12:00 PM - 1:00 PM  

Where: 620 Library Place, Program of African Studies, Conference Room, Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Public

Contact: Kate Dargis   847.491.7323

Group: Program of African Studies

Category: Lectures & Meetings

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PAS Affiliates Series
*lunch served*

Exogenous or Endogenous Colonial Institutions? Lessons from a comparison of tax systems in British and French Africa, 1880-1940

Marlous van Waijenburg, PhD Candidate, History

Abstract: The literature is divided about the extent to which metropolitan identity mattered for the long-term institutional and economic development of former European colonies. Was the identity of the colonial power a key determinant for the nature of colonial institutions, or were these essentially a product of endogenous conditions shaped by local (pre-colonial) history, demography and geography?

We explore the relative importance of exogenously imposed metropolitan policies and endogenous economic and political conditions for the process of colonial state formation in British and French Africa through the lens of colonial tax systems. Tax systems offer an excellent lens to study comparative processes of colonial state formation, as they constituted the financial backbone of the colonial state. Using colonial government budget surveys we construct and compare PPP-adjusted per capita government revenue levels, the source composition of collected taxes, and per capita tax pressure. We find that local geographies and indigenous responses to commercial opportunities were key determinants of colonial tax system design and that typically ‘British’ or ‘French’ tax policy blueprints are hard to decipher. All African colonial states shared a preference to tax international trade and resorted to direct taxes when the potential of trade taxes was constrained. Forced labour practices occurred where alternative revenue opportunities were limited, although once in place, the French maintained the corvée system much longer than strictly necessary.

Bio: Marlous van Waijenburg studies comparative economic history (History department) and is interested in the historical determinants of long-term economic development outcomes. The main regional focus of her work has been on (colonial) Africa, but she is currently doing comparative work with Asia as well. A reworked article version (co-authored with Ewout Frankema) of her M.A. thesis was recently published as "Structural Impediments to African Growth? New Evidence from Real Wages in British Africa, 1880-1965" in The Journal of Economic History.

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