Published online by Cambridge University Press: 03 April 2018
Although recent studies on African colonial tax systems have deepened our understanding of early fiscal capacity building efforts in the region, they have largely ignored the contributions from a widely used but invisible source of state revenue: that of labor contributions. Exploiting data on corvée systems in French Africa, this is the first article to make these in-kind taxes “visible” by estimating a lower bound of how much they augmented governments' revenue base. Revealing that labor taxes constituted in most places the largest component of early colonial budgets, I argue that studies on historical taxation need to make a greater effort to integrate this significant source of government revenue into their analysis.
I am grateful for the constructive feedback I received on this project from Ralph Austen, Bill Collins (JEH editor) Ewout Frankema, Jonathan Glassman, Regina Grafe, Joel Mokyr (dissertation advisor), Elise van Nederveen Meerkerk, Yannay Spitzer, Helen Tilly, two anonymous referees, and the participants of the Africa work-in-progress seminar at Brown University (2014), the SSHA meeting in Toronto (2014), the AEH workshop in London (2014), the EHA meeting in Nashville (2015), the African development conference at Harvard University (2015), and the conference on markets and states at the University of Warwick (2016). I could not have carried out the research for this paper without the generous financial support of the Buffett Institute for Global Studies, the Center for Economic History, the Program of African Studies, The Graduate School at Northwestern University, the Economic History Association, and the Balzan Foundation.