Request for research proposals
The political economy of taxation

The United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER) requests research proposals for The political economy of taxation project. This project is part of the Domestic Revenue Mobilization (DRM) programme and supported by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad). Proposals for original research that speaks to the core themes of this project and offers strong empirical or theoretical contributions will be considered.


Government revenues from taxation are a critical source of public finances, supporting the fiscal space for economic development and public investments in the United Nations Agenda 2030: Sustainable Development Goals. And, indeed, a large amount of effort and resources is devoted to the development of tax systems in order to improve the revenue collection capacity of low- and middle-income countries. 

High-income countries collect, on average, more than double the share of total revenues than low-income countries, and this gap in tax performance is stable over time. Political economy explanations, by focusing on deeper social and political process which underlie taxation, may contribute to a deeper understanding of why tax reforms succeed or fail, and why the gap in tax performance between higher- and lower-income economies persists.  

The literature on the political economy of taxation is focused on the histories of high-income countries, which may not necessarily apply to a contemporary lower-income country context. We aim to contribute to a growing body of literature on the political economy aspects of taxation in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), specifically. 

In particular, we are interested in proposals that advance theoretical and empirical knowledge on the following:

  • Taxation and the social contract: What are citizens and elites’ preferences for direct and indirect taxation? Does progressive taxation increase tax compliance? How do the elites respond to changes in taxation? When does trust in state institutions increase? Under what conditions do we see a shift from indirect to direct taxation?
  • Taxation and the governance dividend: Does taxation improve governance? Which taxes are more likely to produce a governance dividend? Is it taxation on labour or taxation on capital that leads to a governance dividend? Focus on Africa: Under what conditions do we see a governance dividend in this region?
  • Taxation in resource rich economies: Which political institutions may facilitate taxation in resource-abundant countries? And, why do such political institutions emerge in some resource-abundant countries and not in others? Do we need these institutions in place prior to the discovery of natural resources? If so, for low-income countries that already had weak institutions of political accountability prior to the discovery of natural resources, how can the fiscal resource curse be avoided? 

We are particularly interested in proposals that make a strong empirical contribution or use innovative datasets for low-income countries, particularly in Africa. We are also interested in comparative case studies of countries that could increase their tax capacity relative to other countries at similar levels of economic development. Proposals that conduct systematic reviews and theoretical analysis which expand the research frontier in LMICs, and other data-limited contexts are also welcome.


UNU-WIDER invites proposals from qualified researchers for papers examining political economy factors which explain taxation in lower-income countries. These papers will be published in the WIDER Working Paper series with the goal of future publication in high-quality journals in economics, political science, development studies, or related fields. The papers need to be written in English and should be limited to 10,000 words maximum (not including appendixes).

Proposals from individuals, groups of individuals, as well as non-profit organizations, are welcome. Proposals can be submitted through the submission portals (see sidebar). Applications from women, early career researchers, and researchers from the Global South are particularly encouraged. We highly encourage junior and early-career scholars to submit a research proposal either as individuals or with a senior collaborator as a research group. 

For successful proposals, individual researchers will be issued UNU Consultant Contracts (CTC), while non-profit organizations will be issued UNU Institutional Contractual Agreements (ICA). A total research honorarium of USD 6,000–10,000 will be paid in two installments depending on the qualifications of the lead researcher and assessment of the proposal. 

Read the full announcement for more information.

5 June 2024Launch of request of research proposals
15 July 2024Final opportunity for questions on the request for research proposals
30 July 2024Proposal submission deadline
30 September 2024Target date for informing on decisions
30 May 2025Target date for submission of first drafts of papers
Date TBCResearcher’s work-in-progress meeting
31 August 2025Target date for submission of final papers