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The paradox of power: understandingfiscal capacity in Imperial China andabsolutist regimes

Ma, Debin and Rubin, Jared (2017) The paradox of power: understandingfiscal capacity in Imperial China andabsolutist regimes. Economic History working papers, 261/2017. Department of Economic History, London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK.

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Abstract

Tax extraction in Qing China was low relative to Western Europe. It is not obvious why: China was much more absolutist and had stronger rights over property and people. Why did the Chinese not convert their absolute power into revenue? We propose a model, supported by historical evidence, which suggests that i) the center could not ask its tax collecting agents to levy high taxes because it would incentivize agents to overtax the peasantry; ii) the center could not pay agents high wages in return for high taxes because the center had no mechanism to commit to refrain from confiscating the agent’s resources in times of crisis. A solution to this problem was to offer agents a low wage and ask for low taxes while allowing agents to take extra, unmonitored taxes from the peasantry. This solution only worked because of China’s weak administrative capacity due its size and poor monitoring technology. This analysis suggests that low investment in administrative capacity can be an optimal solution for an absolutist ruler since it substitutes for a credible commitment to refrain from confiscation. Our study carries implications for state capacity beyond Imperial China.

Item Type: Monograph (Working Paper)
Official URL: http://www.lse.ac.uk/economicHistory/workingPapers...
Additional Information: © 2017 The Authors
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DS Asia
H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
Sets: Departments > Economic History
Identification Number: 261/2017
Date Deposited: 03 May 2017 13:33
Last Modified: 03 May 2017 13:36
URI: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/id/eprint/75218

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