Fiscal Embeddedness: Tax Policy as an Institutional Tool of State-building

Bearing in mind Joseph Schumpeter’s assertion that “the public finance is one of the best starting points for an investigation of society, especially, though not exclusively, of its political life” (1991: 101), a multidisciplinary study of sources, practices and consequences of taxation can greatly illuminate fundamental institutional dynamics of any national political economy. States of Obligation: Taxes and Citizenship in the Russian Empire and Early Soviet Republic byYanni Kotsonis (New York University) excellently fulfills this intellectual mission.
Beginning in the 1860s, the Russian Empire replaced a poll tax system that originated with Peter the Great with a modern system of income and excise taxes. Russia began a transformation of state fiscal power that was also underway across Western Europe and North America. States of Obligation is the first sustained study of the Russian taxation system, its European and transatlantic context, and its essential continuities between the fiscal practices of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union.
States of Obligation Taxes and Citizenship in the Russian Empire and Early Soviet RepubliUsing a wealth of materials from provincial and local archives across Russia, in this very interesting and award-winning book Kotsonis skillfully examines how taxation was simultaneously a revenue-raising and a vital state-building tool, a claim on the person and a way to produce a new kind of citizenship. During successive political, wartime, and revolutionary crises between 1855 and 1928, state fiscal power was used to forge social and financial unity and fairness and a direct relationship with individual Russians. New taxation policy has been a crucial nexus for creating national accounting and the modern citizen. However, state power eventually overwhelmed both the private sector economy and the fragile realm of personal privacy.

This well articulated and enlightening book constitutes a crucial intervention in imperial Russian and Soviet history, demonstrating unexpected continuities between the Russian Empire and Soviet Union, challenging received understandings of the late imperial state’s reliance on agricultural taxation, and recalibrating the place of fiscality and the role of fiscal experts in the economic, political, and social shifts of the early Soviet period.
States of Obligation is a superb study in economic history, an astute analysis of the modern state, a valuable contribution to fiscal sociology scholarship and a compelling empirical demonstration of the state-economy-society mutual embeddedness.

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One comment

  1. An interesting economic topics. The Romans were the first to organise a tax system to collect
    revenues for their own Emperor which was represented by a network of servants controlling the
    collected revenues. In Medieval times, the great landholders in continental Europe and Britain,
    were called feudal barons, owners of the lands, and exploiting the labour – peasantry (called serbs of the gleba), these Barons were the main collector of taxes and part of their treasure was sent to
    the King. With the French Revolution and the abolition of the feudal system and with the creation of the State and its institution, the tax system, was imposed via Parliament to the citizens. Since then,
    always taxes have been part of important historical facts, producing revolutions and political crisis.
    i.e. The American revolution started because of a tax imposition to American exports of tea, the
    liberalism in the 19th century, based its principles in the free trade, specially Britain was one of the
    main supporters under its maritime ultramar sea trade, creating reaction in countries i.e. US in mid 19th century, opposed to British trade liberalism to protect their own emergent industries in the
    Atlantic coast. Another example was the Chilean Liberator Bernardo O’Higgins who in his government (1817-1823), imposed an extra taxation to the local landholders to finance the Independence campaign in Peru ( important and strategic territorial colonial possession of the
    Spanish Monarchi), etc.

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