Taxation Data as Indicators of State-Society Relations: Possibilities and Pitfalls in Cross-National Research

Author(s): Evan Lieberman 

Status/Format: Published

Date: 2001

Publication Type: Journal Article

Publisher: Studies in Comparative International Development

Volume and Issue: 36(4)

Page Numbers: 89 - 115


Cross-national research on taxation is a growth industry in political science. This article discusses key conceptual and measurement issues raised by such studies. First, it highlights the ways in which taxation has been studied as a rich and varied concept, including as a component of the state-building process, as a collective action problem, and/or as a problem of distributive justice. Second, the article identifies the central tradeoffs associated with the construction of taxation indicators used to measure such ideas. It discusses considerations such as which forms of revenue should be included and which should not, whether and how to standardize taxation measures, and how to fine-tune measures through a clear specification of units, universes, and measurement calibration. These choices have important implications for the “scoring” of countries, and for making valid inferences about the relationship between states and societies.