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Taxation and representation

Abstract

Social scientists have drawn a straightforward lesson from European history: taxation promotes representation. Drawing on this history, scholars have developed general theories that connect taxation to modern democracy. In this article I argue that these theories have overlooked the most important element in the relationship between taxation and representation in European history. Premodern assemblies, or their members, typically had a deep involvement in the mechanics of tax collection, and it was primarily through this that taxation promoted the emergence, strength, and longevity of representative institutions. But modern parliaments do not collect taxes. As a consequence, taxation has only a modest role in the promotion of democracy in the modern world. My argument challenges existing theories of the link between taxation and representation, including those made in the literature on rentier states. It also advances our understanding of the process by which premodern European representative assemblies were transformed into the basic institutions of modern democracy.

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Michael Herb is assistant professor of political science at Georgia State University. He is the author ofAll in the Family: Absolutism, Revolution and Democracy in the Middle Eastern Monarchies (Albany, NY: SUNY, 1999). He received his Ph.D. from UCLA in 1997.

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Herb, M. Taxation and representation. St Comp Int Dev 38, 3–31 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02686197

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Keywords

  • Nineteenth Century
  • Comparative International Development
  • Modern World
  • Bargaining Model
  • Authoritarian Ruler