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Political Science and Political Economy Research Seminar

Fiscal Legibility and State Development: Theory and Evidence from Colonial Mexico

Emily Sellars (Yale University), joint with Francisco Garfias (UCSD)

Tuesday 14 February 2023 14:00 - 15:30

Many of our seminars and public events this year will continue as in person or as hybrid (online and in person) events. Please check our website listings and Twitter feed @STICERD_LSE for updates.

Unless otherwise specified, in-person seminars are open to the public.

Those unable to join the seminars in-person are welcome to participate via zoom if the event is hybrid.


About this event

We examine how fiscal legibility, the ability of central authorities to observe local economic conditions for the purposes of taxation, shapes political centralization and state development. When rulers lack information about the periphery, they may cede autonomy to tax-collecting intermediaries to encourage fiscal performance. As information quality improves, rulers are better able to monitor and sanction local officials, allowing them to tighten control over taxation and establish more direct state presence. Centralization encourages additional investment in improving fiscal legibility, leading to long-term divergence in state development. We study the consequences of a technological innovation that dramatically improved the Spanish Crown's fiscal legibility in colonial Mexico: the discovery of the patio process to refine silver. We show that political centralization differentially accelerated in affected districts, that these areas saw disproportionate state investment in informational capacity, and that they were more resilient to institutional decline over a century later.

The Political Science and Political Economy (PSPE) research group at the LSE brings together faculty and PhD students who do quantitative and/or formal research on political institutions, political behaviour, public policy, and political economy.

The PSPE Research Seminar provides a venue for researchers (mostly from outside of the LSE) to present their work.

These seminars are held on Tuesdays in term time at 14.00-15.30, both ONLINE AND IN PERSON in room SAL 3.05, unless specified otherwise.

Seminar coordinator: Mathilde Emeriau

Contact gov.comms@lse.ac.uk to be added to the mailing list and to recieve the zoom link.

For further information please contact Maddie Giles: gov.comms@lse.ac.uk.