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Clifford L. Porter Prize Paper. A. Alstott, M. Graetz, Z. Liscow Outstanding student performance in taxation open to students in other schools of the University.


Previous studies of rebel governance predict that armed groups with access to natural resources will engage in looting rather than invest in building the complex bureaucracies that are necessary for taxation. This claim relies on an implicit assumption that the sole purpose of taxation is to collect revenue. I challenge this assumption with original data from 28 sub-districts governed by the Islamic State (IS) in Syria. The motivating puzzle is that IS imposes heavy taxes in oil-rich areas where existing theories predict low levels of taxation. The paper theorizes that this puzzle can be resolved by taking into account the non-economic benefits of taxation for insurgent groups, including (1) social control, (2) collective identity formation, and (3) demographic engineering. The quantitative and qualitative data presented in the paper suggests that IS imposes taxes that are not always economically rational but that nonetheless serve important functions in governance and state-building.

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