Building State and Citizen: How Tax Collection in Congo Engenders Citizen Engagement with the State

Jonathan L. Weigel. 2017.

Abstract: Does tax collection catalyze citizen engagement with the formal state? I conduct the first field experiment to randomize tax collection: a door-to-door tax campaign in Kananga, D.R. Congo. I use the experiment to test the classic hypothesis that citizens will respond to increased tax collection by participating more in politics. As predicted, the campaign increases costly participation by 5 percentage points (28%): citizens in taxed neighborhoods are more likely to attend townhall meetings hosted by the government or to submit suggestion cards evaluating its performance. I present a model in which citizens participate more because tax collection sends a signal of state capacity, raising the expected benefits to participation. Analysis of respondents’ stated beliefs about government capacity supports this mechanism. The paper thus provides field-experimental support for prominent theories that place taxation at the origin of citizen participation in politics as well as evidence of a new mechanism linking tax collection and political engagement.