Strategic Taxation in Autocracies

Marina Dodlova (University of Passau)
Viola Lucas (University of Konstanz & GIGA)

Abstract: This paper explores how the autocratic rulers shape the tax revenue composition to please certain groups of population and so create biases in redistribution policy. We argue that an autocrat who cares about both rent seeking and survival faces a trade-off between the elite’s loyalty and general public support. So the autocrat behaves strategically in imposing tax burdens on different groups of population and use redistribution policy to trade political influence for revenue. Using a new detailed dataset on government finances in 81 autocracies in 1946-2006, we find that despotic autocrats, who concentrate all decision-making power on themselves, are likely to collect lower personal income tax revenues as they aim to reduce the revolutionary threat, but raise higher land and property tax revenues as they try to limit the political power of the elite. Our results confirm that the composition of tax revenues is a policy outcome of a strategic game between an autocrat and other groups of interest, in particular the elite and the masses.