Ongoing Research Projects

The Gendered Political Economy of Taxation

The international community has pledge to end discrimination of women (UNGA 1948; EEC 1957; UNGA 2015). While it can be hard for governments to control private actions, the first and minimal step should be to end discrimination by the state itself through equalize laws and procedures for women. Yet, governments around the world continue to discriminate against their female citizens. A field where this is very clearly visible is the tax system. It reflects very clearly societal preferences and therefore also very clearly shows how the state sees or does not see its female citizens. It also matters practically, as taxation affects every citizen and has strong effects on citizens' economic and social opportunities. Research mostly in economics has shown again and again that gender-discriminatory tax practices harm women and societies. The goal of this project is to explain why these dysfunctional policies are so sticky and what factors led to gender-equalizing reforms across different areas of the tax system and countries, but not others. A first workshop on the politics of gendered taxation took place in November 2023.

The Politics of Climate Taxation

There is broad consensus about the need of an effective climate policy. Among a broad range of policy solutions, one clearly stands out: carbon taxation. Green taxation is the text book example of how governments can internalize negative externalities. Framing such a policy is difficult, however. Green taxation is costly for industry and citizens, and has stark redistributive implications. This makes it difficult to sustain political support and legitimacy from cost-avers voters. Also, the policy is boundary spanning. Effective climate policy requires simultaneous action by different governments and at different levels of governance. This makes it difficult to establish a useful and stable division of labor. In a series of survey experiments with different coauthors (Michael Bechtel, Philipp Genschel, Julian Limberg, Paul Michel, Lukas Rudolph) I ask what drives public support for green taxation.

The Development of the Modern Tax State (with Philipp Genschel)

The modern state is a ‘tax state’ (Schumpeter 1917). The level and structure of tax revenue determines what a government can and cannot do, how many civil servants it can hire, how many services it can deliver, how modestly or ambitiously it can define its goals, and how effectively it can constitute its authority domestically and internationally. The level and structure of taxation also shapes the society the government governs. It determines who has to pay for the state and who not, who gains and who loses, who is empowered and who is disempowered. Our (immodestly ambitious) goal is to analyze the diffusion and transformation of the modern state through the lens of taxation. We will attempt to map and explain fundamental differences in the structures and developmental pathways of national tax systems for a global sample of Western and Non-Western states since the 19th century. To do so we collected information on the first permanent introduction of six major taxes (inheritance, personal and corporate income, social security contributions, general sales and value added). The data collection was funded by the EUI Research Council (2016-2018). A first article that introduces the data on "The Rise of Modern Taxation" has been published in the Review of International Organizations. Our OUP book on "Global Taxation" uses the dataset as common denominator and brings together authors from different disciplines to investigate the global transition to modern taxation from the 18th century to today. More research on the development of the modern tax state can be found here.

Past Research Projects

Constituting the Welfare State in a Global Perspective. Determinants of Social Security Programmes (with Herbert Obinger and Carina Schmitt )

Since the beginnings of the welfare state in Western Europe and the establishment of British settler colonies in the 19th century, social security systems have spread across the globe. Our project investigated the determinants of the introduction and expansion of social security systems around the globe. The main focus was on social security systems that provide transfer benefits in the event of incapacity for work, illness, old age and unemployment. We compiled a global database on social security legislation in all territories and independent states for the period from 1880 to 2020. With the aid of these data, the specific dates of introduction of social security programmes for specific status groups and occupations and the programme-specific introductory sequences can be measured and their determinants investigated. We argue that the introduction of a social security programme is influenced not only by political and socioeconomic conditions within a country, but also by a country's economic, political and cultural relations to other states. Further international influences on socio-political legislative processes include violent relations such as colonialism and war as well as the membership of countries in international organisations relevant to social policy. The project A02 was part of the Collaborative Research Center 1342 Global Dynamics of Social Policy funded by the German Science Foundation (2018-2021).

Social Policy by Other Means (with Peter Starke)

Life can be “solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short” (Hobbes 1651). To insure their citizens against the hardships of life, Western European governments have since the 19th century introduced social policies such as health insurance or pensions that constitute the core of what we now understand as the modern welfare state. The strong focus on these particular policies has served comparative welfare state research well in analyzing the reduction of life risks in advanced democracies over the last century. Yet, increasingly, this focus is too narrow. There is a strong need to discuss new policies within and outside developed democracies, as well as historical and contemporary forms of non-state welfare provision. To do so, we have organized two workshops bringing scholars working in and on different countries, different policy areas, and different time periods together. The first workshop took place at the ECPR joint sessions in Warsaw in March/April 2015. The second one was sponsored by the University of Southern Denmark and transpired in January 2016. The contributions have been published as a special issue on "Social Policy by Other Means" in the Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis.

Tax and Welfare States beyond the OECD (with Hanna Lierse and Carina Schmitt)

The major share of the public and academic debate on redistribution is directed towards the level and composition of the tax and welfare state in advanced Western democracies. From a global perspective this emphasis seems rather misplaced. It diverts attention from the greater number of the global population persisting under more deprived conditions. 85 percent of the world’s population lives outside the OECD and more than 20 percent of the population in low and middle income countries have an income below the international poverty line of $1.25 a day. The UN estimates that developing countries need to raise at least 20 percent of GDP as revenue to finance the Millennium Development Goals and alleviate poverty. So far, half of Sub-Saharan countries fall short of it as do many other poorer nations in Asia and Latin America. We have organized two workshops with internationally leading scholars to discuss these issues (Bremen, September 2013 and August 2014). From these workshops result two special issues. One on “Social Protection in the Developing World: Challenges, Continuity and Change” has been published in Politics & Society. The other one on “Revenue Mobilization in the Developing World: Changes, Challenges, and Chances” appeared in the Review of International Political Economy.

The Tax State and International Tax Policies (with Philipp Genschel, Hanna Lierse, Henning Schmidtke, Stefan Traub, and Hongyan Yang)

Taxation is an exclusive province of the nation state. No entity beyond the state has taxing power. Yet, national tax policy choices are shaped by various international factors. On the one hand, intergovernmental treaties and organizations regulate the ways and means of national taxation. On the other hand, national taxation is shaped by the cross-border mobility of tax bases such as, most prominently, real, financial and human capital. In our research group we explored the interplay of international and national factors on tax policy and the effects of changes in tax systems on redistribution and inequality. An overview of our findings can be seen here (in German).
The project was part of the collaborative research center 597 on Transformations of the State, where scholars in political science, law, sociology, economics, and communication studies worked together to determine if, and precisely how, pressure from globalization and liberalization over the past thirty years have changed the core institutions and functions that define the classical nation state. While numerous books, articles, and chapters have been published, an overview of the key findings can be found in the Oxford Handbook of Transformations of the State.