Journal Article
Conceptualizing the fiscal state

Implications for sub-Saharan Africa

This study contributes to the debate on domestic revenue mobilization and state-building in the Global South by exploring the concept of fiscal states and the common assumption that such states are present in sub-Saharan Africa. We systematically review the diverse understandings of the fiscal state across relevant literatures to revisit its conceptualization.

On that basis, we define the fiscal state as a state whose public revenue base is dominated by tax revenue and loans, and where the relationship between taxation and external and domestic borrowing is balanced and thereby sustainable and characterized by interdependence. We distinguish the fiscal state conceptually from the tax, debt, and rentier states and present a typology of these ideal state types, discussing illustrative empirical examples of different states in sub-Saharan Africa.

These illustrate that not all sub-Saharan states can be categorized as fiscal states. This is important because when African states are regarded as fiscal states, assumptions are made about their economic structures; yet, to the extent that these are absent, fiscal policy reforms are unlikely to carry long-term positive effects

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