Collegium Helveticum
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Fellow Project 2023–2024

A Taxing Empire
Power and Taxation in the French Colonial Empire,1850s–1950s

Taxation was a fundamental tool of colonial rule. It funded colonial states, guaranteed their credit, projected colonial sovereignty, and was used to mobilize labor. The tax demands of colonial states shaped the experience of colonial populations and furthered the work of political and economic segregation inherent to the French colonial project. Colonial taxation also radically disturbed and remade livelihoods and ecologies, so much so that they remained a symbol of colonial oppression long after the end of the colonial period and helped weaken the fiscal structures of newly decolonized states. In A Taxing Empire: Power and Taxation in the French Colonial Empire, 1850s-1950s, I show that taxation was central to the making, operation, and unmaking of French colonialism and that a focus on taxation is uniquely revealing of the ways in which global relations of political and economic inequality were established and maintained in the modern age.

In ten chapters, Madeline explores the history and politics of colonial taxation in the French empire over one hundred years and cover both the colonial territories which generated the highest levels of revenue (Indochina, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, West Africa, Madagascar) and those where debates about tax policy were particularly consequential at various points in time (the “old colonies” of the Antilles and Indian Ocean, New Caledonia, Syria, Lebanon, French Somaliland). This qualitative and archive-based history of colonial taxation in the French colonial empire argues that taxation was not only a way of raising money for colonial states but also an instrument of rule, a defining feature of life under colonial rule, and a central object of anti-colonial resistance.

Thanks to careful attention to local contexts and historiographies, the book brings out differences in tax regimes across the jurisdictional hodgepodge that was the French empire. Based on research conducted in fifteen archival repositories in Algeria, hexagonal France, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Senegal, Tunisia, and Vietnam, the book examines the ways in which colonial tax regimes were established, debated, resisted, reformed, and transformed. To do so, it draws upon a wide array of sources: the archives of the French metropolitan state, those of various French colonial states in Southeast Asia, North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean, the writings of colonial theorists, the publications of imperial watchdog organizations, and literary production as well as the European, reformist, and anticolonial press in both European and non-European languages.

Towards a New International Tax Order: Empire’s Shadow, Neoliberal Present, and Regionalist Futures

The institutions of global tax governance are undergoing a moment of instability and institutional bricolage, which suggests the emergence of a post-neoliberal order. In this article, we examine this situation and make three contributions. First, we fill a lacuna by analysing the neoliberal characteristics of the international tax order. We focus on three: legal encasement through bilateral tax treaties; the creation of offshore spaces for wealth accumulation; the use of a market logic to distribute taxable profits between jurisdictions. Second, we use archival research to show how the historical conditions of colonialism and postcolonialism shaped the conditions under which the regime arose, and its ongoing subordination of the global South’s taxing powers. Third, we lay out an immanent post-neoliberal future of international taxation grounded in the transformative potential of regionalist initiatives.